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Conventional wisdom says go for the geeks

Raleigh doesn’t have Miami’s sunshine and beaches, New York’s cultural come-hithers or Las Vegas’ glitzy casinos and shows. “We’re not a glam city,” says Roger Krupa, director of the Raleigh’s new $221 million convention center. But it has something else going for it: geek appeal. The Triangle is rich in universities, research and development, so the convention center is trying to attract gatherings with an educational bent. “It only makes sense that you go after business that fits,” says Laurie Okun, director of sales and marketing.

She has enlisted the aid of Triangle executives and university administrators to recruit groups likely to be impressed by Raleigh’s brainy bona fides and the building itself. The 1,800-member Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, for example, had planned to hold its biennial meeting this month in Pittsburgh but booked Raleigh instead, impressed by the convention center’s eco-friendly architecture. It’s expecting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Basic arithmetic — especially subtraction — helps, too. The convention center has an incentive fund of about $350,000, generated by a countywide tax on hotel rooms and restaurant meals. In mid-October, less than two months after it opened, $166,720 in discounts and other subsidies had been approved. The biggest was $96,900 for a conference of North Carolina community colleges. Krupa says the fund is necessary for survival. “If we find ourselves at a competitive disadvantage with another city, we can draw on the fund to level the playing field. Charlotte has one. We have one. Almost every competitive city in the country has got one.”

A consultant’s study projected the convention center would host 258 events its first year. So far, it has 251 confirmed events, though not all will fall within the year. It claims 200,000 confirmed hotel-room-night bookings. The main goal, Krupa says, is to bring people downtown to spend money at nearby businesses and help revitalize the city’s core.

One thing the convention center likely won’t do is break even — ever. It expects a $2 million loss on revenue of about $10 million during the fiscal year that ends in June, Krupa says. “If you’re in a secondary or tertiary city, you can’t overcome the losses, especially if you’re running a first-class building. There’s just not enough cash coming over the threshold.”

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — By the end of the year, phone maker Sony Ericsson will lay off more than half the 750 employees at its North American headquarters. The company, a joint venture of Japan-based Sony and Sweden’s Ericsson, cited weak demand, particularly overseas.

CHAPEL HILLAmerican Fibers and Yarns, which supplies dyed yarn for the automotive and home-furnishings industries, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, saying it owed as much as $50 million. It employed about 330, including about 25 at its headquarters, and planned to close plants in Afton, Va., and Bainbridge, Ga.

DURHAM — The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools approved the academic degrees of 25 graduates of an unauthorized satellite campus of N.C. Central University (“Educators Learn Tough Lesson,” October). The students received degrees from an NCCU campus started in 2004 at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga.

DURHAMTransEnterix hired Todd Pope, 43, former head of Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Cordis, as its first CEO. Its 12 employees are developing a device that would reduce the number of incisions needed for abdominal surgery.

MORRISVILLEHarris Stratex Networks restated earnings, saying it had underreported losses by nearly $21 million during the past four years because of accounting errors. It supplies wireless communication systems for the military, emergency services and other applications.

MORRISVILLEClinipace, which makes data-management software for drug companies, doubled its staff to 24 and wants to add six more by January. Earlier this year, it raised $2.6 million in venture capital.

CHAPEL HILL — The UNC Board of Governors agreed to let Mary Easley, wife of Gov. Mike Easley, keep her $170,000 salary — an 88% raise from her previous pay as a lecturer at N.C. State University. But she must raise a third of it herself, and her duties now include teaching and managing the school’s pre-law program.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Chris Viehbacher resigned as the top executive at British drug maker Glaxo-SmithKline’s U.S. headquarters here. Viehbacher, 48, starts Dec. 1 as CEO of rival drug maker Sanofi-Aventis of France.

MORRISVILLEChannelAdvisor, which designs software that allows companies to sell merchandise over the Internet, plans to cut 70 jobs to reduce expenses. That will leave it about 280 employees, more than half based here. The company hopes to become profitable next year.

RALEIGHCapital Bank will acquire four Fayetteville branches from Atlanta-based Omni Financial Services. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. CEO Grant Yarber says Capital wanted the branches, which will give it 31, because the Army plans to add 25,000 troops and civilians at Fort Bragg by 2011.

CARY — Data manager Consonus Technologies dropped plans for an initial public offering of stock. It cited poor market conditions.

RALEIGHInlet Technologies secured $10 million in venture capital. It makes software that improves online digital-video transmissions and plans to add 12 jobs, boosting its work force by a third. Raleigh-based Capitol Broadcasting is among the investors.

DURHAM — Bedford, Mass.-based iRobot bought Nekton Research for $10 million. The price could increase by $5 million if Nekton meets milestones. Nekton employs about 25 making robots that function underwater.

RALEIGHRed Hat, which sells and services the Linux computer-operating system, paid $107 million for Qumranet, an Israeli company that sells software that helps computer systems run multiple programs more efficiently.

CHAPEL HILLQualSec, which is developing a sensor that sniffs out airborne pathogens and poisons, is moving here from North Logan, Utah. It employs four but plans to expand and says it likes the talent pool in the Triangle.