President Barack Obama dined with a dozen leaders of the U.S. technology industry including Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs and Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg as he sought support for his education and innovation agenda and discussion on promoting growth.
The president met privately with the executives last night at the secluded home of John Doerr in Woodside, California, a wealthy community about 25 miles south of San Francisco. Doerr is a senior partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.
“The president specifically discussed his proposals to invest in research and development and expand incentives for companies to grow and hire, along with his goal of doubling exports over five years to support millions of American jobs,” spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement after the meeting, which lasted more than two hours.
Carney said the group also discussed the importance of investments in education and a new joint government and private sector partnership aimed at supporting startups and small businesses.
Obama’s $3.7 trillion budget sent to Congress Feb. 14 includes $148 billion for research and development, about $80 billion for federal information technology programs and a 4 percent increase in education, to $77.4 billon.
Also attending the session were Google Inc. Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt, Carol Bartz, head 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, according to a White House statement. The event was closed to press coverage.
Obama’s 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 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 is 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.
Facebook, the world’s most-used social networking service, has grown to more than 2,000 employees from about 1,000 in August 2009, according to its website. Google, which had 24,400 employees at the end of 2010, hired more than 4,500 people last year, making that year second only to 2007, when the Mountain View, California-based company added more than 6,000. Cupertino, California-based Apple increased its global headcount 36 percent to 46,600 as of September.
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.”
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.
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.
Charlene Li, author of “Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead,” said Silicon Valley shows how the U.S. can stay at the top of global economic competition.
“A visit to Silicon Valley by any president is to focus on one of the core competitive advantages that the United States has: the fact that we are leaders,” Li said.
Obama plans to highlight education later today during a visit to Intel Corp.’s Hillsboro, Oregon campus, where he will tour the company’s semiconductor manufacturing facility with Chief Executive 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, who announced on Jan. 17 that he was taking a medical leave from the world’s most valuable technology company.
Facebook, along with Google and Twitter, also increasingly figures in U.S. foreign policy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed in remarks Feb. 15 that the U.S. will step up support for global Internet freedom, as citizens using social networking sites and other areas of the Internet to organize demonstrations spreading across the Mideast and North Africa.
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