Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency was a political earthquake that leaves the structural integrity of Silicon Valley’s economy in question.
“It’s the dawn of America that I think everyone is trying to put their finger on,” CALinnovates Executive Director Mike Montgomery told Chief Evangelist Kish Rajan on a special post-election episode of their podcast, “A Step Ahead.”
Right now, it’s hard to say what a Trump presidency portends for innovation, technology and public policy. Whereas Clinton had a detailed section in her policy platform dedicated to technology and innovation policy, Trump’s campaign hasn’t offered such guidance.
One thing we have some insight into, however, is Trump’s stance on immigration, which Montgomery says could have grave implications for talent acquisition, entrepreneurism and economic growth in California. For example, the H-1B visa program brings in a large portion of the talented coders who keep Silicon Valley humming. If he restricts skilled visas to make jobs available to Americans, that could hinder growth at high-tech companies. And the lack of a robust talent pipeline, already a concern for the tech sector, could become even more dire if the state’s top universities no longer matriculate STEM students from foreign countries.
If the new administration doesn’t show a commitment to creating conditions that appeal to businesses here in the U.S., might we see a tech drain out of the U.S.? “I certainly hope not,” says Rajan. “But I think it’s something that we have to think about.”
Listen to the full interview below:
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A Step Ahead: The Night After the Election
Hey everyone Kish Rajan, Chief Evangelist at CALinnovates. This time, joined by our fearless leader, Executive Director of CALinnovates, Mike Montgomery. We welcome you to this special edition of A Step Ahead, the CALinnovates podcast. It’s special because we are recording this the day after Election Day 2016 and wow.
Hey Mike, how are you doing?
Mike Montgomery: All right Kish, how are you?
Good. I’m up here in San Francisco and you’re down in world headquarters in southern California. How about that election?
You know, I don’t think it’s what many people expected. I think it’s taken a lot of people by surprise. It’s really interesting that I talked to a lot of adults, a lot of grown ups today and so many people seem like they are having trouble stringing sentences together and thoughts together. They’ve really been kind of taken by surprise…
and are not quite sure what this means, what the implications are. We have a very unique perspective because we’re in California, which may be very helpful and maybe also shows why so many people didn’t expect this result.
Well, there’s no doubt. I mean, let’s be clear. This thing is a political earthquake, right? I mean, no one…well, I shouldn’t say no one, but very few people in the popular media, pundits, academics, all the standard experts, very few people were willing to come out and predict that this would happen. Now that it has happened, it’s a massive shock, it seems to me, to the United States political landscape and certainly as it relates to the issues that CALinnovates focuses on.
Yeah, I think it’s the dawn of a new era that everyone is trying to put their finger on.
Yeah, it’s the dawn of dawn, right?
Dawn of dawn.
What I think what we wanted to do here, was there’s going to be a lot more to talk about, and we’re looking forward to it, a lot more of A Step Ahead, many more episodes where we’ll talk about these issues in more depth. But I think here, we wanted to just kind of have some immediate reaction as best as we can to discern what this portends for innovation and technology and public policy issues that we concentrate on here. So. let’s just kind of talk about that for a minute.
You tell me, but I think the first thing that comes to my mind is, frankly, the lack of certainty about where this new Trump administration is going to go on innovation and technology issues. At least with the Clinton campaign and her policy platform, she had a detailed section in her policy platform that talked specifically about innovation and technology policy and the types of things that she would do in a Clinton administration. We don’t have any such guidance from the Trump campaign. Do we?
No, we’ve got a fairly blank slate. The Trump ticket talked about cyber. We’ve got a pretty decent understanding, we think, of where President Elect Trump stands on immigration, but the rest of the overall tech agenda is TBD.
No kidding. So, let’s talk about what we kind of do know, right? So, take immigration for a minute. I mean, given his incredibly strident approach to immigration during the campaign, if he even begins to implement that type of approach or philosophy, what does that mean for the innovation community?
One of the things that Hilary Clinton was very clear about, like you said, was her stance on tech issues. I think comprehensive immigration reform was an issue that Silicon Valley, in particular, really cared about. Trump kept saying that the United States got drug dealers and the criminals and the murderers, but there is a great value to, at the very least, the H-1B visa program that helps bring a lot of people who write code and do the high tech work that’s so valuable for a number of these different companies from startups all the way to the big boys. Is that in danger, I mean, for the future of entrepreneurialism in America? What does that mean to the talent base that comes into the United States to help build these companies? There’s probably a direct correlation to the future of education in America, but we can’t fill that gap in a matter of a few years.
I mean, this is the thing, right? It’s been a vexing challenge for technology companies already about a lack of a robust work force pipeline, either domestically created through the type of education programs that you’re talking about or through the utilization of the immigration rules, specifically H-1B. Now, we just don’t know if or how either of those will be priorities for the Trump administration, let alone whether we know that he would be supportive of the types of actions that will help deal with that pipeline issue, right?
Right. You know Kish, one question for you is during your time running business economic development for the state of California, you got to witness first hand why companies stayed in California and decided to leave to go to Texas or they’ve left the country or whatever. We want to do everything that we can to keep those companies headquartered in California. If they’re not in California, we want to keep them in the U.S., but we have foreign founders coming over. They hit Sand Hill Road, they raised their money, they maybe go to 500 startups or whatever. We don’t want them to found a company and go leave, right? We want them to stay.
Yeah, you’re totally right. I have to tell you that when…what we would deal with in California was trying to be competitive relative to our other states in the union and present that we had favorable conditions for those companies to come here or to be formed here and to grow here. Talent acquisition and retention, human capital was one of the great advantages that California had and it continues to be one of the reasons why California remains the epicenter of innovation and technology nationally and one of the global epicenters. It’s funny that you bring it up because I thought about that this morning and thought, “Not only were we trying to retain that business in California, and we faced real competitive threats, I’m worried about now, just trying to retain that in the United States.”
One question I’m going to add is, if we don’t show, if the new administration does not show a commitment to creating the types of conditions that businesses want to invest in here in the United State, might we start to see a tech drain out of the U.S. to other places that appear more favorable? I certainly hope not, but I think it’s something that we have to think about.
Yeah, absolutely. So, that’s on the table. One other thing that’s very obvious, of course, is that President Trump will be able to make some very important appointments in Washington to run different agencies and commissions. We spend a lot of time at CALinnovates, of course, on the FCC and the FTC. So, those agencies play major roles in the tech industry and they’ll have new leaders sometime after the first of the year. So, that’s something we’re going to have to follow and we’re going to have to pay close attention to and try to figure out what those policies may look like with the new chairmen, what it means to rules that have been put into place but weren’t enshrined in law by congress. So, it’s going to be an interesting next few months as we start to understand what this all means.
Well I think the last issue for now, and I think we’re going to…over time, we’re going to want to unpack all of this as the days, and weeks, and months unfold and continue to talk about it. But I think the last thing on my mind, are the political implications and that is to say, Trump has been elected President, I think, on a populist movement, it’s fair to say. I guess the question is politically speaking, how is the Silicon Valley…I’m using that as a metaphor, how is the innovation and tech community going to fair, politically, given this prevailing wave that has brought Donald Trump to the presidency?
Well, I think Silicon Valley has a little bit of a problem on its hands. Other than Peter Thiel, Silicon Valley at large was with Hilary Clinton.
Right. I remember that letter that was signed by…sorry, how many tech people signed…
That letter? 100 or 150 tech leaders? Yeah.
Yeah, by everyone. Those issues won’t go unnoticed, at least in the stories that have been running today in terms of the Trump transition team. For the people that they’re considering right off the bat, there was a full scrubbing of what people had written on social media. Certain people would bounce from the list for consideration for important jobs because they may have said something critical. If any industry thinks they’re going to get off scot free if they weren’t with Trump, then they probably have something else coming to them, which means it’s going to take a new approach, right? There’s got to be a new approach. There’s got to be a new way of thinking about this relationship or moving forward and perhaps messaging as well.
Well, I’m with you. Well look, there’s so much more to talk about and I think so much more to dive into. I think the political challenge that you’ve raised is a big one. I think there’s another dimension here that we’ll talk about more, which is the opposite side of the equation, places like California, that will, I think, have a very strong counter reaction, or reaction I guess, to prove that it can grow an economy and force technology and innovation companies to deal with the challenges of broader opportunity and prosperity. There could be a lot more heavy hand of government in the way of regulation and other ways they’ll want to compel that type of behavior. So, that’s going to be another reaction to this election that I think we’re going to have to watch, as well.
Boy, there’s going to be a lot going here. But look CALinnovates, we’re going to be involved, right? I think this is going to be a continuation of the work that we’ve been doing and thinking about. What is the right agenda and the right way to communicate to policy makers in D.C. and California and beyond about how innovation and technology can be a constructive force here and not something to be battled against?
That’s right. Whether you’re happy about the results of the presidential or you’ve been reduced to tears, there’s got to be a way that we move forward. We’re going to be there every step of the way. We’re going to try to continue chopping this up. We’re going to come to some interesting conclusions and pass forward. I hope that everyone listening will be with us every step of the way because it’s going to take a great effort to help the tech industry forward on its new advocacy path.
Well, it’s going to be an interesting path indeed. We’ll look forward to more discussions. So for you, Mike Montgomery our Executive Director, this is Kish Rajan Chief Evangelist of CALinnovates. Thanks so much for listening to this edition of A Step Ahead.