While technology executives talked about the latest gadgets, gizmos and trends, Gov. Mike Easley told the crowd at NCEITA’s “Securing the Future” forum that strengthening education in the state is what will truly secure tomorrow’s economy.

The one speaker at the conference that twice brought the auditorium crowd to its feet was Easley who stopped in for a few minutes. With secret security forces closely in tow, Easley took time out from the state’s ever worsening budget situation to urge the technology community to take a proactive stance toward education in the state.

“We have to recognize that capital investment in education now will be followed by skilled laborers,” Easley said before the North Carolina Electronics and Information Technology Association attendees. “Those who understand technology know that’s why we must continue to invest in our community colleges and our education system, even during an economic downturn.”

Easley hinted that the biotechnology sector could help stimulate North Carolina’s economy by contracting with local farmers to grow crops or raise animals, and again in the state’s education system because students are one of the Tar Heel State’s greatest resources.

“Nothing matters unless you have a workforce,” Easley said. “If you don’t have one available then you won’t even be in the ballgame, and that’s what the business community has to do. You have to make our legislators understand this at this time. I don’t believe we can cut and tax our way out of the recession. That’s how North Carolina can remain competitive when we come out of the recession compared to states who are cutting their investments in education.”

However, Easley didn’t mention the state’s failure to fund a major high-tech initiative launched in late 2000 — the biogenomics and bioinformatics consortium. The state also reduced funding to the NC Biotechnology Center by $1.5 million, and Easley has frozen all further state money designated for the NC Technological Development Authority, which helps fund startups and small business incubators around the state, in a dispute with how the NCTDA handles its money. A scathing state audit was cited by Easley as the reason for the move.

But all those decisions seemed forgotten as the crowd cheered him on. And no one had a chance to ask questions – such as just how much of the state’s economic woes can be traced to the devastation of the high-tech downturn and the dot com bombs.

Some interesting trends

The second day of the conference did reveal some innovative work that is happening around the Triangle.

Scott Wingo, chief executive officer of Channel Advisor, talked about the evolution of online markets, how they may reshape the face of e-commerce in the coming months, and how his company fits in.

Wingo pointed to eBay and Amazon.com as the two companies who are bushwhacking their way into an innovative foothold in online retail markets. Wingo noted that a study completed by Forrester Research finds that by 2006 about $46 billion annually will move through e-commerce marketplaces, which are becoming a sort of virtual strip mall for Internet shoppers.

“There is an evolution going on,” Wingo said. “Auction Web sites like eBay are turning into clearing houses for manufacturing companies. In fact 6 percent of all new computers purchased are bought on eBay, or one every 30 seconds. And there is a misconception that eBay is just an auction house when in fact nearly 30 percent of its sales are from fixed prices.”

Wingo follows eBay closely because Channel Advisor has developed technology that allows manufacturers and retailers to find the best places to sell their products on sites like eBay and Amazon.com without having to manually take the time to research each site.

Smart cards will bring scrutiny

Later in the day a presentation by representatives of Ericsson, Entrust and Eximsoft International, all of whom have developed technology that places a 32-kilobyte operating system inside a credit-card like device. People will then be able to use it as a driver’s license, security ID badge; it can contain someone’s medical history as well as being used for purchases.

“This is one day going to replace all of the plastic cards you have in your wallet,” said Amalendu Chatterjee, vice president of strategy and product planning for Eximsoft. “But how feasible this is business-wise, socially and politically I do not know. The question is will credit card companies or retail companies want anyone to use one card for all purchases? There is a branding problem there, and I have no answer right now.”

David Vander Staay, a strategic systems analyst for Ericsson, discussed how smart cards could be used with wireless devices for similar applications and how Ericsson is doing much of this work at its facility in Research Triangle Park.

The three companies announced that they plan to hold a public demonstration of this technology at 11 a.m. Monday, March 25 at 407 Davis Drive in RTP.