By Andrew Duffy

It's been used to rally hockey teams from third-period deficits and to spur baseball teams to victory late in the season, and now the local high-tech sector is backing a simple white towel to help pull the region out of recession.

To the strains of rock band AC/DC's anthem Back in Black, nearly 500 "rally" towels were twirled, waved and shaken aloft last night at the Victoria Conference Centre, as the Victoria Advanced Technology Council kicked off its annual technology awards gala.

"Every year we do a little something to draw attention," said VIATeC executive director Dan Gunn. "This year we went with rally towels, figuring the local tech sector could help rally the local economy, and we're playing Back in Black to accompany it."

The song was no doubt a call to lift economic fortunes out of the red ink and onto the positive side of the balance sheet.

But there doesn't appear to be much red being spilled on Victoria's high-tech company ledgers these days, with a number of executives in that sector saying they learned lessons during the dot-com meltdown eight years ago to mitigate the effect of recessionary factors.

Gunn said those companies that continue to grow today learned to work lean-and-mean when venture capital, investment and sales dried up in 2001 and were able to thrive when normalcy returned.

"And now many of these companies have had six months of the current recession and they have a good indication of how they are weathering it," said Gunn. "They're doing better than expected and they are actually still growing.

"They are even better prepared now, so when this recession rebounds, they will be there at the front of the line and leading the charge."

For some, it might even prove to be a springboard to get past their competition.

And that, according to Gunn, is a reason to throw a party.

"We are very pleased with the current success level of local tech companies and what they are providing the local economy," said Gunn. In fact, a few years ago, technology passed tourism as the number-one private industry in the region with annual revenues well in excess of $1.7 billion. "And we're glad to provide them an opportunity to get together, be recognized and to celebrate."

It's also a chance for the people behind many of those companies to meet in person, as they often toil long hours away from the limelight.

"They don't get there by accident," said Gunn. "They work very hard at that."

Picking up one of the key pieces of hardware last night was Vecima Networks, which was named Technology Company of the Year.

The Victoria-based firm, which designs and manufactures hardware to support digital television and data-over-cable services, last year reported a 38 per cent increase in revenue to $36.4 million for a $4.4 million profit.

"They are an industry leader," said Gunn, noting they chose to set up shop in Victoria while selling their products around the world.

This year, Bill Cooke, a former CEO of VIATeC, was recognized with the Colin Lennox Technology Champion award for his decades devoted to the high-tech field.

"He's been a key figure that has helped advise, guide and grow our sector for years, and it's a nice nod, given he worked closely with Colin at VIATeC for so many years," said Gunn.