Today’s political arena tolerates hypocrisies with a greater degree of acceptance than many would like, though the public absolutely draws a line at shady backroom deal-making.
This is why we ought to be aghast at the process surrounding Gigi Sohn’s nomination to the FCC. Recently, Sohn announced that, if confirmed, she would recuse herself for several years on matters related to retransmission consent or television broadcast copyright. These issues are of great importance to FCC and to broadcasters, and broadcasters were worried about Sohn’s record on them.
Sohn had been in hot water about these matters since late 2021. In November of 2021, the National Association of Broadcasters expressed that while they did “not currently oppose the nomination of Gigi Sohn, we have serious concerns about her involvement as one of three directors of the illegal streaming service Locast.” That streaming service had essentially fleeced the broadcasters by illegally streaming their content for free. Sohn was a board member and supported the activity.
Thereafter, Sohn’s nomination hit choppy waters, and suddenly, she couldn’t be on the wrong side of the broadcasters anymore. Thus, her recent gambit: Recusing herself from big issues pertaining to broadcasters.
Her recent bending-of-the-knee led to this: “NAB appreciates Ms. Sohn’s willingness to seriously consider our issues regarding retransmission consent and broadcast copyright, and to address those concerns in her recusal. We look forward to the Senate moving forward with Ms. Sohn’s confirmation and are eager to work with her and the full complement of commissioners in the very near future.”
From “serious concerns” to “eager”—welcome to rank regulatory corruption in 2022. Here is the bottom line: An embattled nominee for a regulatory position just announced that she would not regulate so that she could comfortably earn her regulatory posting. There is a fitting Latin expression for this, one that doesn’t wear well in the halls of Congress: A quid pro quo.
To put it bluntly, Sohn’s job as an FCC Commissioner would be to regulate the broadcast industry. And yet, at a moment of maximum peril for her nomination, she promised the broadcast industry that she’d be hands-off for a few years.
Set aside the flagrantly unethical nature of this. Consider a more practical problem with Sohn recusing herself on retransmission and copyright issues, a conundrum best articulated by the Wall Street Journal: “These subjects consume a large share of the FCC’s regulatory bandwidth, which means the agency could be deadlocked for good or ill on many issues.”
The decision to press ahead with Sohn’s nomination is a galling dereliction of duty. There are issues of real concern including media ownership, retransmission, and broadcast copyrights that require a fully operational Commission. By giving up her ability to regulate broadcasters on these issues, Sohn has neutered her own position—even before she’s been confirmed. And because she’d have to refrain from voting on these matters, she’s also neutered the FCC.
This is unacceptable. There were already questions swirling about Sohn’s backroom wheeling-and-dealing and her questionable record on minority media ownership, among other worries. But this quid pro quo is simply the last straw. Congress cannot and should not move forward with a nominee for a regulatory position who has abdicated all regulatory authority.
There are certainly other qualified nominees for the FCC post. Perhaps most importantly, any new candidates shouldn’t campaign for the job by saying they won’t do the job. This FCC Commission seat should be filled by a regulator who can actually regulate.
San Francisco boasts a young, diverse and highly educated workforce. The Bay Area receives a whopping 45 percent of the total venture capital investment in the entire United States, and residents are embracing everything from robotic deliveries to autonomous cars. It seems like a no-brainer that San Francisco should lead in the deployment of the next generation of fast, reliable, state-of-the-art mobile technology known as 5G. But as it stands today, San Francisco doesn’t even have a commitment from all major 5G infrastructure providers to deploy in the city.
So, what is 5G? 5G is the next evolution of mobile technology, which Accenture projects will create up to 3 million new jobs and boost GDP by $500 billion. 5G could be up to 100 times faster at data transfer and significantly more reliable than our current 4G, or LTE, standard. 5G is also expected to reduce latency, the time between clicking a link and the page loading, to around a millisecond. Further, Accenture estimates that cities deploying 5G networks in conjunction with the Internet of Things (IoT) will have shorter commute times, improved public safety and other efficiency improvements.
The first step in realizing our 5G future is robust infrastructure deployment. 5G requires the installation of thousands of small wireless antennae known as “small cells.” 5G needs an immense amount of capacity and close proximity to the end user, so it requires much denser networks than what we currently have powering 4G and LTE services. Small cells typically are installed on utility poles, street lights or other existing right-of-way infrastructure. Because small cells are much smaller, easier and cheaper to install than a traditional macro site, and can be camouflaged to mimic the aesthetic of the areas where they are placed, the technology is the ideal solution to meet 5G’s capacity requirements.
However, instead of creating the proper conditions to foster a highly competitive environment for 5G build out in San Francisco by encouraging small cell deployment, the city is throwing up unnecessary roadblocks. To be fair, companies such as Verizon and Mobilitie are building out 5G infrastructure in San Francisco, but several other big providers have not yet started to build in the Bay Area due to unreasonable fees for small cell attachment to municipal infrastructure. Without robust competition in small cell deployment from all of the major players, it is highly unlikely San Francisco will be able to deploy the number of small cells necessary to be at the front of the 5G line.
To date, San Francisco hasn’t been willing to make the full commitments to 5G but the city certainly isn’t alone. While San Francisco has chosen slow deployment with high fees, other municipalities have made it difficult to install small cells through long wait times for permits or unreasonable aesthetic guidelines for the devices. One wireless CEO lamented that in some cities, small cells require only two hours to install, but need 18 to 24 months for a permit to be issued. Other Bay Area cities, such as Mill Valley and San Rafael, are passing laws designed to entirely block the installation of 5G small cells.
San Francisco hasn’t attempted to ban small cells and in fact its permitting process, run by the Department of Public Works, is smooth and efficient. But the price of $4,000 for each small cell attached to non-wooden utility poles is acting as a serious deterrent for deployment.
However, change is coming in the way of a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order aimed at streamlining small cell deployment for 5G.
On January 14th, 2019, new rules governing the installation of 5G infrastructure officially went into effect which, in theory, will drastically reduce the fee San Francisco will be able to charge for small cell attachments and create more competition.
Only time will tell how San Francisco officials will choose to react to the new FCC rules, but there is no doubt that creating an environment where all the major players are deploying next generation infrastructure in San Francisco can only be a positive for businesses and residents as the city continues to try to maintain its competitive edge in our connectivity driven global economy.
Much of Silicon Valley may be mourning Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump last month, but at least one tech insider believes Silicon Valley itself helped hand Trump his victory.
Economic anxiety outside of the technology centers was a major factor in Trump’s victory, says Ronald Klain, executive vice president and general counsel at Washington, D.C.-based venture capital firm Revolution. When voters heard Clinton talk about adding jobs in clean energy — an industry tied more closely to California and New York than to any part of the Rust Belt — they felt excluded. Their wariness may well be justified, according to Klain. “We bear some responsibility for this in the sense that the tech community has largely been focused on funding companies in just three parts of the country,” Klain said during an interview for CALinnovates’ “A Step Ahead” podcast, adding that those areas — Silicon Valley, New York and Boston — receive an estimated 75% to 80% of all venture capital funding in 2015. “This industry hasn’t done a good job of funding growth and innovation in the other 47 states, and it’s time to change that.”
How? For starters, Revolution has a program called Rise of the Rest, which invests primarily outside of Silicon Valley. Twice a year, the firm rents a bus and visit places such as Ohio, Indiana and Michigan to hunt for promising startups that need money.
“Silicon Valley is a national treasure; it is a global resource,” says Klain. “But we can’t have a country where only one or two or three parts of the country are thriving.
Hey, Kish Rajan, Chief Evangelist at CALinnovates, and welcome to this addition of A Step Ahead. We’re so lucky this time to be joined by Ron Klain, who is a long-time veteran of many presidential administrations and presidential campaigns. He is one of the smartest and most respected minds in all of Democratic politics, and now he works for Revolution, a venture capital firm investing in the businesses of tomorrow.
As you’ll hear, Ron has tremendous insights on the outcome of the election. The President-elect’s proposed infrastructure program and some of the pitfalls, and really what the future of tech looks like. It was a tremendous conversation. I hope you’ll enjoy it. Ron Klain. Hey, thanks so much for joining us on A Step Ahead. We really appreciate it.
Ron Klain: Thanks for having me.
As we record this, we’re still looking at the aftermath of the presidential election both in terms of what contributed to that outcome, and now as the new Trump Administration is coming into focus, in terms of its people and priorities. We’re watching very carefully the steps that are being taken, so I’d love to talk about that a little bit with you.
Right off the top, you just recently had an op-ed piece in The Washington Post where you talk specifically about the infrastructure program or at the least the concept that came out in candidate Trump and now President-elect Trump’s discussions of priorities. You warned that program, at least as he’s talking about it, really could be a trap for the country and particularly Democrats. What do you mean by that? How might that be a trap and what is your perspective there?
Well, thanks, Kish. Sure, I think we have great infrastructure needs as a country. We need to rebuild our roads, our bridges. We need to make sure every American has access to broadband. We need to improve our airports. We need to do all of these things. It’s not a question of whether or not we have infrastructure needs. We do. The question is, what has Donald Trump as a candidate for President proposed as the way to address them?
The plan that he put out in the campaign, a plan that was written by Wilbur Ross, the man he nominated to be the Commerce Secretary, now, the Ross plan basically provides a series of tax cuts to private sector investors to invest in for-profit infrastructure projects. The problem with that is this. First of all, the most pressing infrastructure needs we have are not for-profit infrastructure projects. Things like pipelines and utility systems, which are for-profit. Our biggest needs are things like roads, and water systems in places like Flint, and bridges that don’t charge tolls. That’s where we need the help, and the Trump plan does nothing for that.
Secondly, because the tax cuts can be used for projects that have already been planned doesn’t mean necessarily we’ll get any net increase in infrastructure. No net increase in jobs. People could just take the tax breaks that the plan offers and use them to give them even greater profits on the projects they already planned to do. That’s the second problem.
The third problem is when a version of this was proposed in the past it’s been loaded up with anti-labor, anti-environmental provisions that really just splinter Democrats, help some working people hurt other working people. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. I think when you look at the Trump plan, it is addressing a need we have, but it’s addressing it in a way that will not work, that will make the rich even richer and that won’t really deliver the kinds of infrastructure projects the country needs.
Well, that’s a pretty serious indictment. There are a lot of problems in that to be sure. Not to repeat all of that, but certainly the idea that significant tax breaks could be going to projects that are already planned, that wouldn’t stimulate new infrastructure, would not create new jobs, but only would end up being a financial windfall to people that have already committed to investments. That’s obviously quite troubling, and then really the last point that you made, that if it comes at the expense of not only potentially no growth and projects but also creating leverage to inhibit the types of labor protections and environmental protections, boy, that thing really could end up being a bad deal for America.
I think it would be a bad deal for America. Sadly, it would come at the expense of the kind of infrastructure plan that we really need. The kind of infrastructure plan that Secretary Clinton, for example, proposed during the campaign, which was a plan that made the investments we need in roads, and bridges, and infrastructure, and broadband, and the other kinds of basic fundamental needs we have as a society, and did it by actually raising taxes on the wealthy to help fund these projects. That’s the right way to do it. Giving tax breaks to investors is not going to get the job done.
I think the thing that is so troubling, and I guess a real challenge, and I guess, hence, you’re stepping out and wanting to create a warning to not go too quickly to be in support of this program is certainly so much of the campaign was about the state of the economy, and people’s economic anxiety, and a real concern about jobs or a lack of jobs that are out there and growing in places around the country. This plan, I think, is at least at a high level being built as a job creation plan, and you, of course, we’re involved in a real stimulus program that was about building projects and trying to put people to work. This seems like it would stand in real contrast to those efforts.
No question about it. Look, I think that good infrastructure programs can create jobs. I want to come back to that in a second. A program that just simply gives tax breaks to investors for projects that may already be planned, may already be about to launch anyway, will not create net jobs or may create very few net jobs, so I think there’s a big problem with that. The second issue is people need jobs and people live in places. It’s not clear that if you fund for-profit infrastructure projects, that if it even does create jobs, will those jobs be in the places that jobs are needed? The single biggest thing that Trump’s plan would fund would be pipelines probably because those are a kind of for-profit infrastructure project that the plan seems to envision. Pipelines are mentioned several times in the text of the plan.
Think about that. First of all, do we want more pipelines or not? There’s a big debate about that around environmental issues. Secondly, the pipelines are largely built in remote areas that may not be the places where people really need the jobs. In terms of getting jobs to the people who need jobs, building pipelines through wide open spaces may or may not be a great job creation program.
Yeah, no kidding. Well, it’s a really interesting perspective that you’re bringing. At CALinnovates here, we talk a lot about innovation in technology broadly. I’m wondering, one of the things that we certainly aspire or would love to see in any kind of infrastructure program is thinking about how new innovations could work alongside larger infrastructure projects to create 21st-century infrastructure that is smarter about transportation, smarter about utilities, smarter about energy conservation in ways that are both good environmental practices, but good economic stimulus because it’s catalyzing the growth of whole new sectors of the economy. We would love for that to be the case in a large-scale infrastructure program, but I get a sense from you that you have some doubts about whether that would actually be the result of what Donald Trump is talking about?
Well, I do. He was very critical throughout the campaign of a lot of the Obama Administration’s clean energy programs, a lot of the kinds of investments that have been made in wind power, solar power, other forms of clean and renewable power. Donald Trump was very, very critical of all that, so it’ll be curious to see where he winds up as President. We do have a lot of needs in this country. There are a lot of ways to create great jobs, high paying jobs in the clean energy of tomorrow. That was a high priority for secretary Clinton in her campaign, and we just can only hope that it will wind up being a priority of President-elect Trump. It hasn’t been yet, but I guess we can hope for the best.
I would love to talk about job creation broadly for a moment. It does seem, certainly, when you do these election postmortems there’s a lot of things that contributed to the outcome that we got. Clearly, economic anxiety in places that aren’t the innovation and technology centers was one of the major factors. You look at how successful President-elect Trump was in the rust belt where traditional industry has been the backbone of that economy and it’s been waning. They seem to look at places like California, like the Silicon Valley, and feel that type of technology is ivory tower. It’s kind of behind a wall that they can’t reach. It seems that there’s a lack of trust around where so much of innovation and technology’s headed. I’m curious as to your perspective on how pervasive do you see that point of view and what do we do about it? Because it certainly seems that we’re going to have to embrace technology if we are going to grow a new 21st-century economy.
Oh, I think that all of us in the tech community, though I work here at Revolution, we’re a venture capital firm that invests in tech firms. We bear some responsibility for this in the sense that the tech community’s largely been focused on funding companies in just three parts of the country. 75%, 80% of venture capital in startups in venture capital is just in Silicon Valley, New York City, and in the Boston area. This industry hasn’t done a good job of funding growth and innovation in the rest of the country, in the other 47 states, and it’s time to change that.
This is a big program we believe in here at our firm. At Revolution, we have what we call “The Rise of the Rest,” and so almost all of our investments are outside of Silicon Valley. We believe there are a lot of great companies in the rest of the country. In fact, twice a year we rent a bus, drive through places like Ohio and Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and we look for forgotten startups in these areas. We invest in those startups because we think that there are a lot of great people starting great business outside of Silicon Valley. It’s time for the industry, the technology industry, the investment industry, the entire ecosystem that supported the great success of Silicon Valley to look at the other 47 states, and to look for opportunities there, and to help grow the economies there.
Silicon Valley is amazing. It is a national treasure. It is a global resource, but we can’t have a country where only one, or two, or three parts of the country are thriving. We can’t be global leaders with only success in one, or two, or three parts of the country. There are super talented entrepreneurs in the rest of the country. They need investment. They need support. They need help. That’s really where our future lies.
Well, that’s really interesting. Why has it been, that statistic that you cited, 75% to 80% of the venture capital has been concentrated in those three states, those three major tech hubs that you’ve talked about? I’m curious as to what’s driven that deep of a concentration of investment in so few places and then how do we change that? How do you create financial incentives or otherwise to do what you’re talking about, which is to spread it more broadly?
Well, look, I think that these are kind of virtuous cycles, if you will, and highly concentrated cycles. That’s the nature, I guess, of the way we are as people. I think it also contributes, frankly, to a lot of the lack of full inclusion we see in tech and in venture capital. It’s basically people investing in places like them, people like them. It becomes very much of a closed circle. It’s not a surprise to me that someone in the middle part of the country looks at that and says, “That’s not going to create jobs for me. That’s not going to help people like me.”
It’s interesting, when we go and we invest in these cities, we invest in places in North Carolina, and Ohio, and Michigan what we find is a lot of great companies. Because since there isn’t as much capital chasing them from an investment perspective, we are able to do deals with better valuations. It’s often cheaper for the startups to start in these cities. They can hire talent at a more affordable price, and the cost of living is better in these places. We also find more female founders. We find more founders of color who aren’t locked out of the closed ecosystem that Silicon Valley often is. We find more diverse startups in terms of who their founders are to fund in these other places.
I think there’s a lot to be said for…again, I’m not trying to take anything away from Silicon Valley. It’s an amazing place. There’s obviously great companies, but there’s a lot to be said for what’s out there in the rest of country and what it would do both our country, for our economy, for our society, and for the tech VC community to look out there and to see what we can support.
There has to be the fodder for these types of startups all around the country. You’re right, there’s no question that Silicon Valley is sort of the nature of these virtuous cycles, as you’ve said, where talent wants to rush to the Silicon Valley because that’s the only place. I guess it’s the old Willy Sutton line. “You rob banks because that’s where the money was.” Now I would think and would hope that if others follow suit with what you’re saying they can discover that there’s all kinds of brilliant ideas, wonderful new concepts, wonderful ideas for new technologies, new companies all around the country. You don’t have to go to the Silicon Valley to find that stuff.
That’s right. Look, there are people who are graduating every day from colleges and universities all over the country. They want to stay in their communities. They want to start businesses with the people they went to college with who are also in those communities. They can hire teams in those communities. They can use a lot of the recent innovations to build virtual teams, cloud-based services, and sourcing talent from other places over the internet and whatnot to startup companies without moving to Silicon Valley. As I said, if they can get capital they can often build a team less expensively, rent space less expensively. All the things that make business very expensive to do in Silicon Valley can be a little bit easier in other parts of the country.
We just took our “Rise of the Rest” tour to Omaha, Nebraska. We found some great startups in Omaha, Nebraska and some great midsize and growing companies in Omaha, Nebraska where people leave the universities there. In particular, University of Nebraska. Great engineering backgrounds. Very talented people. Start great companies. Want to grow them there. That’s true in a lot of midsize places all over the country.
Finally, on this topic, and then I want to turn to politics maybe for just a couple more minutes before we let you go. It also seems to me, or a hope would be that by encouraging this kind of entrepreneurship and business development in places all around the country, what that could do is apply technology to a whole range of subject areas and not just the development of cool applications or cool gadgets that are driving a lot of what we see in Silicon Valley, which is interesting, and fun, and creating lots of wealth. How do sort of modernize traditional systems? Whether it be agriculture, or energy, or water, or other things that are sort of basic elements of our society that could benefit from refreshing or renewal by the type of folks that you’re seeing in Omaha and other places I would suspect?
Yeah, Kish. I think this is right on. I think it’s right on in two respects. First of all, there are regional specialties where startups can really benefit from that. Saint Louis is a great agricultural hub in the United States for a lot of reasons. Seeing a lot of ag tech and food tech startups in Saint Louis is good in every single way. One, it’s great to start a business in that space in Saint Louis because there’s a lot of expertise in the area. Two, starting such a startup in Saint Louis means you’re going to help revolutionize the incumbents in that area. That’s true for food in Saint Louis.
We did a “Rise of the Rest” stop in Nashville. We found a lot of people trying to use all kinds of technology to change the music industry in Nashville. Every region has these specialties. We’re investors in a company call Shinola, which is trying to bring some new forms of manufacturing to downtown Detroit and put people to work manufacturing things in the heart of Detroit. I think there are these local cultures, local specialties, and I think that matching those up by community can be very helpful in terms of the talent that’s there and the culture that’s there. It can disrupt and improve existing incumbents, make big companies more innovative themselves. There’s a dialog, kind of an interim process between the incumbents and the startups in a community. That can be very helpful, which leads to the second point, which is a lot of this regional-based startup idea centers around having these incumbents be the reference clients for startups. When we talk to people in the startup community, of course, it’s a challenge to find talent. It’s a challenge to build your company. It’s a challenge to find capital, but often, the really critical barrier is, can I make a first big sale? Can I sell my thing to somebody? Can I get someone to buy my thing?
Having startups in communities where there are big incumbents in the same space that often provides that critical, critical customer. Will Monsanto in Saint Louis buy ag tech from ag tech startups? I think that having this kind of regional-based strategy can really be good for all elements of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Well, it sounds vital if we’re going to get to a place where we’re truly getting folks all around the country to see, and embrace, and leverage the benefits of technology and not see it as something to be worried about or, frankly, leveraged against, which I think in my view was just too much of what happened in the election. I appreciate your point that folks that are in the technology ecosystem bear some responsibility in helping to change that understanding and that perception in reality of what technology can really mean to us.
Look, I think bearing responsibility may be harsh, but I think the point is we all should understand that we’re all in this together, and that there are opportunities for the tech community if they reach out to the rest of the country. That will also change our politics in a more positive and healthy way.
Turning to politics for just another minute, you’ve been one of the great leaders in the Democratic party in our country now for some time. For those of us that are of that persuasion, thinking critically about what happened here, building this type of economy going forward that you’re talking about, I’m wondering if you see some challenge from within. Things around how organized labor, for instance, which is in such a critical and vital component of the Democratic party, but where is the willingness there to engage in this type of change? I might look at the education sector and ask the same question. I’m curious as to your view of what types of internal changes might have to happen to unleash the type of new economic era that I think you’re touching upon?
Well, look, I think that we have a lot of priorities as a country, and certainly, we need to do a better job on education. I still believe passionately we need immigration reform, even though I know immigration took a hard hit in the campaign. We cannot win the global battle for talent if this country educates hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world and then proceeds to send them home when they want to start jobs and create wealth here in the United States. That’s a mistake.
We need to invest in our infrastructure. That’s a critical need. Both our traditional infrastructure, and as you talked about earlier, give some of the new forms of infrastructure. We should have the best broadband in the world here in this country. We should have the best internet in the world in this country. That’s a critical part of our global competitiveness. Find ways to promote job creating capital formation. I think we have a lot of needs.
I have to say, I was a little disappointed. I know I’m a partisan, so you can take this with a grain of salt, but I was disappointed to see when President-elect Trump named his group of business advisors, his council to advise him on jobs. There wasn’t a single executive from the tech sector on that council. There were executives from Wall Street. There were executives from big industrial companies, but no one from technology, no one from venture capital, no one from social media, and no one from any of these new economy sectors. That sends a bad signal. I think we’ve got to obviously invest in our traditional legacy businesses here in America, but we also have to invest in the things that are creating jobs of tomorrow. Hopefully, the President will listen to people who are from these rising economic sectors in the future.
No kidding. It really begs the question if in his mind making America great again means that we’re going backwards to a time when the economy just looked and behaved differently, or if it actually means renewal, which is to build on what’s good, but to try to modernize it. I think by that measure of who he’s surrounding himself with so far, sadly, it looks like more of a backward looking approach to what the economy can or used to be.
Correct. That just seems to be highly unlikely that’s going to succeed. I don’t think we can go back to the America of the 1950s. I personally don’t want to go back to the America of the 1950s, but even if someone wants to I don’t think it’s possible. I think we have to find a way to really embrace what’s succeeding in our economy and then make sure it’s more widespread, more evenly shared, more evenly distributed, has more people with access to it. That, to me, seems like the best way to create jobs and growth for everyone.
Finally, finally, I always try to end on an optimistic note. Despite these present challenges that we have and the political disagreements and debates that are obviously going to ensue, what are you seeing out there through your work and revolution, and what you’re seeing on the political landscape that never the less gives you hope or makes you optimistic about what’s possible?
To go back to what I said a little while ago, Kish. I think it is interesting to me that as we travel the country of evolution, we go to some of these places that most people in tech don’t think about, midsize cities in the middle of the country, in almost all of them you find really enthusiastic, really energetic entrepreneurs. It’s encouraging in a number of ways because a lot of these entrepreneurs outside of Silicon Valley not only have all the same energy, and intensity, and enthusiasm that they have in Silicon Valley about the products they’re building and the teams they’re assembling, but they also really often have a real dedication to their own communities. To making these a better place to live. To really growing and revitalizing cities in the heartland of the country.
They often have a dedication to focus more on job creation. I think too often in Silicon Valley it’s almost a badge of honor that you can create a billion dollar company and employ no people. I think that you see out in the heartland people are really focused more on startups that create jobs, that growth, and that often real focus on a double bottom line. A real focus on the social impact of what they’re doing. When you talk to these entrepreneurs you hear so much enthusiasm about how their product will make their communities better, how their product will make the world better. How their products help the environment, help with people’s healthcare, help with education, help with these pressing social needs. I see a lot of really energetic and enthusiastic people out there who want to make their communities a better place, who are looking for some help to do that. There’s a lot of great people doing great work out there in the country if we all just give them a hand.
Well, listen, Ron Klain, the work that you have done for some time through politics in the public sector and now the great work that you’re clearly doing at Revolution, you have been and continue to be one of those contributors making a real difference across the U.S. We really appreciate the work that you continue to do, and I’m very grateful that you took a few moments out of your schedule to talk with us here on A Step Ahead.
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.”
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.
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