Posted on Apr 29, 2003

He saw the early days of cable. He saw the early days of the Internet. And Mark Walsh, now managing partner of a private investment firm in Washington, D.C., has seen the early days of Tech Valley.

And he says good things are afoot.

“I'm as much a scout as I am a cheerleader,'' Walsh said Monday, shortly before opening the third Summit in Tech Valley with a speech to 160 people.

And he's going to tell his colleagues in Washington to hop on a Southwest flight to Albany and check it out.

Walsh, who delivered a caffeinated romp through the rise and fall and expected rise again of the technology industry, graduated from Union College in Schenectady in 1976 before embarking on a career that has taken him to HBO in the early 1980s and America Online in the mid-1990s. Now Walsh is managing partner of Ruxton Associates LLC. He said he's bullish on Tech Valley — a 17-county swath that stretches from the Canadian border south to Dutchess County — for three key reasons.

Government has backed the technology growth here with investment.

Local colleges and universities — such as Union, the University at Albany and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute — are able to turn out quality graduates to staff a growing industry.

Most importantly, he said, people here are pulling for something to happen. “This area wants — wants — new energy,'' Walsh said.

The two-day summit brings hundreds of business, education, government and other leaders to discuss the potential transformation of the Capital Region into a tech hub. Those involved with organizing the annual event have said attendees are beginning to consider that goal closer to reality than pipe dream.

The arrival of International Sematech at UAlbany is a major step for Tech Valley, said Charles DeVoe, executive director of the New York State Association of Computers and Technologies in Education, a Latham-based group.

DeVoe, who was making his first visit to the summit, said his group is trying to find ways to work with the technology industry and connect it to educators.

Technology is bound to have a profound impact on education, Walsh said in his speech. And it will affect politics, business travel and lifestyle issues.

Walsh, along with dozens of other tech pundits, has earmarked wireless networking as one of the next big things. It won't be long, he said, before the high-speed wireless networks that have started popping up in Starbucks coffeehouses and McDonald's fast-food restaurants start becoming ubiquitous — and people won't leave home without their wireless devices.

“The next chapter is the connectivity of everything to everything,'' he said.

So your car will be able to analyze traffic patterns and tell you if you're about to become ensnarled in a massive traffic jam, for example.

Walsh sped along in a kind of breathlessness heard a lot in the late 1990s — right before the bottom fell out of the technology market.

And, yes, he said, markets went wildly askew then. “There needs to be an `E' in the P/E ratios for a lot of those companies,'' he said of price/earnings ratios, which tell how expensive a stock is.

But if the valuations that overzealous investors placed on stocks were wrong, the value of the Internet has been proven right, he said. “We didn't get the value wrong in terms of what it means to your life and to my life.''