OFC: The Show Must Go On

Despite the outbreak of war in Iraq earlier this week, organizers of the OFC Conference, scheduled to begin on Sunday in Atlanta, say the event will go on as planned. Organizers are optimistic that the war won’t substantially diminish turnout.

“We’ve heard that some companies have travel restrictions,” says Elizabeth Rogan, executive director for the Optical Society of America, which is co-sponsoring the event. “It’s unclear what the impact will be on attendance right now. But my sense is that things will still be fine.”

Rogan adds that, to the best of her knowledge, none of the 900 exhibitors have pulled out of the show. She also says that local hotels report that rooms blocked off for the conference are still filling up.

Companies like Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), NEC Corp. (Nasdaq: NIPNY), and Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd. all say they have either restricted international travel or are requiring special permission to travel internationally, but they all say that employees based in the U.S. who are scheduled to attend OFC will be there as planned.

“We haven’t restricted any travel to tradeshows,” says Alexandra Manning, marketing communications manager for Sumitomo. “It’s more or less business as usual for us.”

“We have plenty of people here in the U.S. that can cover if we needed them to,” says Brian Murphy, a spokesperson for Alcatel. “Most of the people going to the show were based in the U.S. anyway, since we’ve been trying to cut costs on travel.”

Nortel wouldn’t say whether its travel policies have been altered due to the war. But the company issued this statement yesterday:

    We view the safety of our employees as a paramount concern for Nortel Networks and have taken the appropriate measures to ensure their security. We have a leadership team dedicated to ensure that the Company has plans and programs in place to manage such contingencies, but we are not at liberty to discuss specific measures we have in place.

Companies based outside the U.S. are the ones most likely to be the affected by these self-imposed restrictions. For example, three quarters of the sales engineers from Furukawa Electric Co. Ltd., who are based in Japan, won’t be attending the show this year due to restrictions imposed by Furukawa’s parent company, says Evan Johnstone, marketing communications manager for Furukawa in the U.S. The restrictions are a blow to the company, which views OFC as an important sales event. Johnstone says the company will try to compensate for the absence of key technical people with conference calls.

“It’s not going to be easy,” he says. “Some of these guys will have meetings at 4 AM. I guess they’ll really be needing their caffeine next week.”

Other companies like Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN), based in Maryland, and QinetiQ Ltd., based in the U.K., say they have not imposed any travel restrictions.

“I doubt you’d get approval to buy a ticket to Kuwait or Baghdad right now,” says one employee at QinetiQ. “But we haven’t restricted travel anywhere, and we are all still going to OFC.”

This employee, who, for security purposes, didn’t want his name used, went on to say that he thinks it’s important for business to continue despite the war. He grew up in Northern Ireland and lived with terrorism on almost a daily basis as a child.

“I didn’t do certain things as a child, because I was influenced by that,” he says. “But as an adult, I don’t want the threat of terrorism to stop me from doing things. It’s completely up to individuals to decide whether or not they want to travel, but I think we need to wave the flag from whatever side we are on and carry on with life.”

Rogan says she feels confident about the safety of the show itself. She says that since the events of September 11, 2001, her organization has increased the amount of money it spends on additional security at OFC. This year, roughly $200,000 has been spent on security, including personnel who will patrol the conference and exhibit hall.

“We have invested substantially in security over the past two years on top of what the convention center provides, to ensure that attendees and exhibitors are safe,” she says. “I feel that what we have done, along with what the convention center officials have done, is more than sufficient.”

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

For up-to-date information about the coming OFC Conference, please visit Light Reading’s Unauthorized OFC Preview Site.

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