RALEIGH, N.C. — Lloyd Jacobs, chief executive officer of interactive marketing firm Click Culture, couldn’t help but smile as he gazed at the huge crowd milling about North Carolina State’s high-tech Centennial Campus on Thursday evening.

“I feel like we’re in the pre-9/11 days,” Jacobs said.

Business is good for Jacobs and a lot of other people these days as the mood of the turnout for the Southeast Tech Journal’s “Deck Party” networking event clearly demonstrated.

Jacobs’ “pre-9/11” remark is telling. Before the terrorist attack, techies, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists talk about the “dot com” bubble and bust. Then along came 9/11 which exacerbated the economic slowdown.

But today, despite soaring energy costs and a shaky stock market recently rattled by inflation fears, business is booming for many across the Research Triangle. The Research Triangle Regional Partnership reported recently that more than 43,000 jobs have been created in the area over the past two years, for example.

Anecdotal Evidence of Growth

Other evidence seen and discussed at the networking event is a bit more anecdotal yet worth noting.

For example, a CEO at a fast-growing technology firm stepped down a month ago to join a new venture. While the company is in stealth mode, the CEO said technical talent, management, product development and financing are already in place. He couldn’t wait to launch another company, and the economic times are right. (Can’t say more — right now.)

Two other founders of a nano-technology related firm are hoping to be able to talk about their venture soon. It’s not new, having been around since the “dot com” days, but a new round of financing and technical progress has the team moving toward a potential home run development. (I wish I could say more.)

A technical staffing firm is preparing to announce its opening of a Charlotte operation. And more than one custom software developer said business is strong.

Not ‘Rocket’ Growth

However, the mood is not like the frenzy of the late-90s, as entrepreneurs and others have said over and over at events throughout 2006.

“This is not rocket growth,” said Scott Place, founder of Maverick Marketing. “This is manageable growth.”

Manpower’s hiring report released this week did note that the percentage of Raleigh (net 7 percent) and Durham (net 13 percent) firms lagged the state average (net 22 percent).

However, Craig Stone of Hire Networks pointed out that a sure sign of growth is the number of firms looking for marketing help.

When times are tough, the marketing people, custom software developers and consultants are the first to go. When times improve, they are among the last to be hired back. And that’s happening, more than one networker said — with a smile.

“We have companies calling us now,” said Stone, whose company recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. “People still need to hire technical people. Demand for sales people has always been steady, but marketing (demand) is picking back up.”

Other sure signs of growth included that of the event’s primary sponsor, TechJournal South. Publisher Eric Gregg expanded the publication to a Southeast focus from a Triangle emphasis at the start of the year, and he is quite pleased with the progress being made.

His brother Randall, meanwhile, talked enthusiastically about his latest effort, the web-based newspaper Raleigh Chronicle. Digital camera in hand, Randall showed up in a suit and tie rather than his usual casual attire. Also cast aside — for a night at least — was his traditional baseball cap. Maybe being a publisher had something to do with the wardrobe change.

“Eric told me I couldn’t wear a cap,” Randall said. So he donned a straw sombrero.

The attire generated a lot of smiles — just as the business mood seemed to be uplifting virtually everyone in the crowd.

It’s a controlled fiesta time in many ways, definitely not a siesta.

Comments? Send them to rick@localtechwire.com