Preliminary figures out from Venture Wire show that venture capital investing is off to an extremely slow start in 2003.

Venture Wire says it has tracked 329 deals worth $3.4 billion so far in 2003.

The total is just over half of the $6.2 billion raised in the first quarter of 2002. It also is a substantial drop from the $4.9 billion raised in the fourth quarter of last year.

Venture funding in all of 2002 was the smallest amount since 1997. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2002 funding reached $21.2 billion, down from $41.3 billion in 2001 and a mere one-fifth the total raised in 2000 at the height of the dot-com frenzy.

Figures compiled by Local Tech Wire reflect the same trend in the Carolinas and Georgia overall, although North Carolina’s total is up slightly.

North Carolina firms have raised $85 million, up from the $84 million raised to open 2002.

Georgia’s total of $60 million is less than half the $150 million raised a year ago.

The biggest deal in the region remains the $63.5 million raised by NewSouth Communications in South Carolina.

LTW tracking: