President Barack Obama plans to discuss his economic agenda and ideas for job growth at a private dinner tonight with technology executives including Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs, Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Google Inc. CEO Eric Schmidt, according to an administration official.
The president will meet with the executives in the San Francisco area, three days after releasing a $3.7 trillion budget that aims to keep up government funding for education, infrastructure and research. He’s likely to hear from the executives about taxes, patents and regulations.
The companies represented at the dinner at a private residence are major components of a sector “that has been a huge contributor to economic growth in the last several decades,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said today, before Obama left for California. “There’s a lot of support among leaders of this industry for our education agenda.”
Also expected to attend the session are John Doerr, senior partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo! Inc., Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter Inc., Reed Hastings, CEO of NetFlix Inc., Arthur Levinson, Genentech Inc. chairman, John L. Hennessy, president of Stanford University, and venture capitalist Steve Westly, managing partner of The Westly Group, the official said, speaking on condition on anonymity.
John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems Inc., and Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison also will attend, spokeswomen for both companies said. Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Facebook, confirmed Zuckerberg will be at the dinner.
“Mark looks forward to speaking with President Obama and fellow technology industry leaders about the value of innovation to economic growth, jobs, and U.S. competitiveness,” Noyes said in an e-mail.
Obama is holding the meeting as his economic policies are under fire from Republican lawmakers, who control the House of Representatives, and the administration is seeking ways to bring down the unemployment rate. The U.S. jobless rate has stood at 9 percent or more for the longest stretch since monthly data was first compiled in 1948.
Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who co-founded a company that became Nextel Corp., now Sprint Nextel Corp., said in an interview that the Internet and social networking have been one of the rare areas of significant growth in the past decade.
Warner, who met Zuckerberg on Jan. 19 at Facebook’s Palo Alto, California, headquarters, said that “without innovation and a growing economy out in” Silicon Valley, “we’re not going to be competitive.”
Along with proposals to improve U.S. public education, Obama’s budget includes $18 billion to build up wireless networks for emergency workers, expand access to high-speed wireless service and supplement communications research.
Former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt said that “there’s a natural alignment of interests” between the president and technology executives.
“I think the president is clearly trying to establish himself as being at least comfortable with the business community and not alien to their interests,” said Levitt, an adviser to the Carlyle Group, Promontory Financial Group and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. He is also on the board of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
There is a feeling of frustration among technology executives that the administration has paid lip service to investments in innovation and education without backing them up with actions, said Russell Hancock, chief executive officer of Joint Venture, a research group in San Jose, California, that provides analysis on the region’s economy.
“We’re not getting the sense that the president and his team are spending enough time here or directing those crucial strategic investments to this region” like improving infrastructure, including ports for the transportation of goods, and stepping up developments in communications, he said.
In his State of the Union address Jan. 25, Obama cited technology companies as heirs to the industries that made the U.S. the world’s biggest economy.
“We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook,” he said. “In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living.”
Warner said the executives will likely seek Obama’s help in improving the business climate in the U.S. That would include lowering corporate taxes, shortening the patent approval process, helping new businesses get the capital they need to launch and expand and shortening the Food and Drug Administration approval process, he said.
Relations With Business
Obama also is seeking to burnish his pro-business credentials after struggles with groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce during his first two years in office.
“This is his way of showing he’s very interested in figuring out how to strengthen the U.S. economy,” said Bill Kreher, an analyst with Edward Jones in St. Louis. “Obama recognizes there are bright tech CEOs that can help him shape the direction of the country.”
Tomorrow, Obama plans to highlight education during a visit to Intel Corp.’s Hillsboro, Oregon campus, where he will tour the company’s semiconductor manufacturing facility with Intel CEO Paul Otellini.
Obama has tapped Silicon Valley for support in the past. While this trip doesn’t have a direct political purpose, according to Carney, when Obama was in California last October, he helped raise money for the Democratic National Committee at the home of Westly.
Employees in the high-tech industry contributed $8.5 million to Obama’s 2008 campaign, compared with $1.5 million for Republican nominee John McCain, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group. No 2008 candidate received more money than Obama from industry employees. Obama won more than 70 percent of the vote in 2008 in the area where the dinner is taking place.
During that October stop in the San Francisco area Obama held a separate meeting with Jobs.
Jobs announced on Jan. 17 that he was taking a medical leave from the most valuable technology company. It marked the third time the Apple co-founder has taken time away from the company since 2004 to deal with health problems.
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