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Comdex draws overseas crowd

Attendance by international representatives increases sharply since last year as companies look to network and sell their wares in the United States.

LAS VEGAS--The international crowd keeps getting bigger at Comdex.

Representatives come from all over the globe--Australia, Asia, Europe, and South America--looking for a "one-stop shop" to sell their products and to network with industry executives and analysts. Like their U.S. counterparts, many of them also admit they like coming to glitzy Las Vegas for the nighttime entertainment.

Their products run the gamut. Yueh-In Company from Taiwan is showing off its speaker systems for computers, while Austria's Rakoczy Print & Design is touting "ecologically sound" mouse pads made of pressed cotton.

Of course, all the big PC makers, such as Sony, Mitsubishi, and Toshiba, are here, touting their latest hardware. They typically exhibit through their U.S.-based operations, such as Mitsubishi Electric America in Orange County, California.

Comdex has 568 international exhibitors this year, representing 25 countries, which is up sharply from 405 last year. The show also held an "international marketing forum" to help foreign companies figure out how to sell in the U.S. market. Another goal is to help U.S. companies expand in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. A separate session focused on China, among the hottest emerging markets.

The financial stakes are high. The United States alone accounted for 41 percent of the $610 billion global information technology market in 1996, according to International Data Corporation (IDC).

On the flip side, the rest of the world offers big growth potential for U.S. companies, many of which already do a majority of their business outside the United States. Europe holds a 27 percent share of the global IT market, followed by the Asia-Pacific Rim with 24 percent, and Latin America with 2.9 percent, according to IDC. A recent report said that Internet usage has increased more than 788 percent in Latin America since 1995. (See related story)

Trade commissions from more than a dozen countries also are out in force at Comdex. The Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council--which now handles all of China, not just Hong Kong--both are represented. The Colombian Government Trade Bureau is here, as is the government of Baja, California.

The Australian Trade Commission also is making a stand, joining in a venture-capital forum. According to Robert Hunt, Australian trade commissioner for information technology, high tech is booming Down Under.

Hunt cites statistics showing that high tech has grown nearly 90 percent from June 1993 to June 1996, it generates $25 billion annually in revenue, and it employs 250,000 people. He also points out that Australia is No. 2 in the world in terms of computer use, on a per-capita basis, after the United States.

"Australians are great early adopters of technology," said David James, chief executive of Ni-Tech, an Australian software start-up. "Australia also has a huge pool of largely untapped IT talent; the missing ingredient is access to venture capital."