Internet

San Francisco hosts tech summit

Never at a loss for words when it comes to self-promotion, San Francisco is hosting a "summit" touting its role in the digital revolution.

Never at a loss for words when it comes to self-promotion, San Francisco is hosting a "summit" today and tomorrow--featuring a video appearance by Vice President Al Gore--touting its role in the digital revolution.

San Francisco's efforts to promote and retain its "Multimedia Gulch" enclave of high-tech firms come as numerous cities are staking their claims in the industry, renaming urban areas in the process and in some cases resurrecting them.

The San Francisco Bay Area's South Bay has long been known as Silicon Valley, while anything within a stone's throw of the Flatiron Building in Manhattan is now dubbed "Silicon Alley." In an attempt to boost its decidedly analog reputation, the city of Los Angeles recently unveiled a campaign to label its high-tech corridor the "Digital Coast" (See related column).

Around the country, city officials and local businesses are madly registering domain names in an effort to promote their regions. For example, the San Jose Mercury News recently decided to buy the SiliconValley.com URL. It has plans in the works for the URL's use, but is guarding them closely.

The San Francisco Multimedia Summit '98, which is being Webcast at Gulch.com, has the dual goals of presenting the city as a model for the rest of the world to imitate and preserving its status as a tech firm magnet--even as some suggest that San Francisco has become an impossibly expensive place to live and work.

The summit started off today with International Day, sponsored by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone. Attending the event were corporate and civic representatives from countries as far flung as Japan, Australia, Norway, Israel, Vietnam, and India. In the morning, guests toured multimedia companies and schools, including Wired, Organic, and conference cosponsor San Francisco State University. They got an up-close look at the action--software coding and HTML editing--and undoubtedly worked in a few quick games of Quake.

"They saw firsthand how outrageously creative San Francisco is," said San Francisco Partnership partner Mara Brazer. "It was thrilling for them to go behind the scenes and take something back to their country."

The San Francisco Partnership, another cosponsor of the summit, is devoted to encouraging businesses to locate in or expand to San Francisco, and is committed to troubleshooting for businesses that decide to do so.

Tomorrow's summit promises to be a star-studded affair. In addition to appearances by local luminaries, including summit host and city mayor Willie Brown, speakers include venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Gore--via a 60-second video clip.

While San Francisco may well be the envy of its foreign guests looking to repeat the Multimedia Gulch miracle, the city also is faced with the difficult task of supporting and retaining the multimedia companies that currently make their home here. Indeed, much of the mayor's remarks tomorrow are expected to be devoted to outlining ways in which the city will make it worthwhile for companies to endure skyrocketing commercial and residential rents, gridlocked traffic, and parking so impossible that it has become a competitive event in the San Francisco County Fair.

San Francisco city supervisor Leslie Katz, who has adopted the high-tech industry as her constituency, is hoping the city will wind up with a new bus line, called "Gulch Loop," that will hook up with various city transit systems currently serving the Multimedia Gulch area.

In addition, she said the city is looking at ways to provide multimedia companies with reduced rents, and also is planning to provide necessary infrastructure in the lower-rent neighborhoods where multimedia firms may wind up settling.

"Our goal is to provide a platform of support," said Katz. "This is a city 100 percent committed to supporting and working with the industry. New media is to San Francisco what chips are to Silicon Valley."

San Francisco's local efforts to lure and hang on to tech firms, jobs, and dollars are being mirrored on a national scale as the Clinton administration increasingly embraces Net- and tech-friendly policies.