GUELPH — The irony of not having a microphone immediately available to project the opening remarks of the first Guelph Technology Economy Conference wasn’t lost on the hundreds in attendance as they chuckled at the absurdity of it all.

But, technology moves fast and Guelph Chamber of Conference president Lloyd Longfield, the event’s MC, eventually was handed a mike in time to introduce Jonathan Dart, Consul General and Director of United Kingdom Trade and Investment.

"We believe in fast, agile, independent and global business solutions,” Dart said of his government. "We are here today because this area (of the country) is important to us. This (region) is a source of ideas and technology . . . for the future.”

Dart recalled Research In Motion landed in the U.K. with four employees. The tech giant from Waterloo now employs 800 people there.

"This sector is building a real presence in Guelph,” Mayor Karen Farbridge said. "We’re trying to attract a skilled, creative workforce. The kind every community wants.”

Hundreds from the local and regional tech sectors attended the inaugural conference held at Linamar’s Frank Hasenfratz Centre of Excellence in Manufacturing.

They were there to network, try to expand their businesses and hear from one of Guelph’s most successful technology business leaders, Jim Estill.

Estill started the computer technology distribution company EMJ Data Systems Ltd. in 1979, initially operating the business out of the trunk of his car. The company was valued at $350 million when it was sold, in 2005, to SYNNEX, one of the early investors in Research In Motion.

"I’m a big, big believer in the technology business,” he said.

He shared his 12 rules of business success with those in attendance. He then held a brief question-and-answer period to wrap up his keynote address.

"I’m glad that Guelph is doing this. Guelph has huge potential,” he said. "I’m not familiar with many (conferences) like this.”

Estill said it’s important for a community diversify its business and employment.

"It’s good to have a balance,” he said. "And I believe downtown needs to be vital.”

Many of Guelph’s technology-based businesses occupy several of the hidden and obscure office space above the ground floors downtown.

"I think this is one of a number of shifts in business and manufacturing,” said the City of Guelph’s manager of tourism and economic development, Peter Cartwright. "The IT sector is emerging in Guelph. And there are a lot of opportunities in the alternative-energy sector. 

"It’s very important that we have a viable IT sector in the city.”