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PUTTING BEST DIGITAL FOOT FORWARD

Perhaps February isn't the time for visitors to see Buffalo at its best.

"As a tourist, walking in downtown, the streets are empty," said Nurdin K. Shakirov, an emissary from the central Asia republic of Kyrgyzstan. "People come and ask for money."

This from a citizen of a country whose per-capita income is about $2,300. Kyrgyzstan is a nation of 4.6 million on China's western border, about the size of South Dakota.

Shakirov was among a group of visitors from France, Italy, Latvia and Kyrgyzstan who are touring Buffalo as part of a trip to study electronic commerce and the U.S. economy.

Their trip, under the State Department's International Visitors Program, has already taken them to Seattle for a look at e-commerce American style.

Tuesday morning, boosters of the Buffalo region's fledgling info-tech sector met the group to put Buffalo's best digital foot forward. Representatives of InfoTech Niagara, the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. and others extolled regional virtues of low-cost labor, available office space and plenty of Internet "bandwidth."

Some new-economy companies are starting to reverse the hollowing of downtown's core that Shakirov noticed, said Cian Robinson, executive director of InfoTech Niagara.

More than hometown pride is at stake in meetings like this. With technology investment in the U.S. on the downslope of last year's peak, tech companies are looking overseas for growth. Convincing economic scouts from abroad that Western New York can support new economy ventures may bring business benefits, Robinson said.

FisherTowne & Associates in Amherst has several irons in the fire with European firms, said Paul Bramkamp, coordinator of global operations for the software designer.

"A company can be located anywhere these days, as long as they have an online presence," he said. Bramkamp, a recent transplant from Seattle, attended Tuesday's meeting InfoTech Niagara's downtown office.

An Amherst company only needs to bridge some language and cultural differences to produce e-commerce software for a European customer, just as it would for a client in the U.S. customer, he said.

But some differences in business cultures emerged at Tuesday's meeting.

"In Europe, it is important to get (government) grants," said Gilles Bregant, an electronic commerce specialist from the French government. Start-up companies "need some kind of benediction from the government before they can take off."

In Western New York, its your private backers who establish your credibility, he was told, while public grants are tied closely to job creation.

Individual Investors to meet
Christopher Loveless, vice president of Netfolio, a new service that allows investors to craft their own portfolios, will discuss how to benefit from new investing technologies during a meeting of the local chapter of the American Association of Individual Investors at 7:15 p.m. Feb. 21 at the University Inn and Conference Center, 2401 N. Forest Road, Amherst. Admission is $10 at the door.

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