Opinion: Tech industry needs to tell its story in Washington
At 30,000 feet, a recent in-flight viewing of the movie "Up in the Air" presented an applicable analogy to the challenges the high-tech community faces in Washington, D.C. Namely, once you get below 30,000 feet, things are not what they appear to be on the surface.
This is particularly true of the debates taking place in Washington that too often ignore the true role and economic realities affecting America's increasingly broad innovation sector.
Last week, the chief financial officers of today's leading innovation-based companies gathered in Silicon Valley to discuss long-term strategies.
Many of these companies' CEOs and policy advocates were in Washington to develop and advance a blueprint for action. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of much more to come.
Good news first: Information and communications technologies will once again help to spearhead America's recovery. Much like the personal computer was to the recession of the 1980s, the Internet was to the recession of the early 1990s, and content-rich and productivity-enabling applications were to the recession at the start of the new century, new technologies and the means to deliver them will again serve as our nation's most profound catalysts for economic recovery.
Case in point: Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, and a host of information and communication companies have announced plans to hire as many as 10,000 workers in the coming months. They also unveiled a $3.5 billion initiative for investment in U.S.-based technology companies.
Now the bad news. Until federal policymakers understand the short- and long-term obstacles facing the nation's innovators, achieving measurable economic growth and employment opportunities will take longer and be more painful than it should be.
Getting past the bad news to a strategic solution will require action from both the public and private sectors.
First, policymakers must stop legislating in a vacuum and appreciate the operational and financial constraints placed on today's companies. Too little attention is given to providing incentives and to removing barriers, often at the expense of U.S. competitiveness. For example, access to capital remains uniquely tight, increased regulatory uncertainty limits options for growth and overbearing tax regimes place us at a disadvantage to our foreign counterparts.
Second, our sector must stop thinking of Washington as something to work around and begin engaging in earnest so we can break through the clutter. We need to redefine, and perhaps even rebrand, the true economic role of information and communications companies among key audiences in Washington.
An oft-used line of attempted persuasion by high-tech interests in Washington is something like: "What we need is a national innovation-based policy agenda." Despite the D.C.-centric rhetoric and stating of the obvious, it's undoubtedly true.
We are not a singular or isolated industry as much as we are now a foundational element of all industries.
We must therefore engage more aggressively on seemingly indirect issues that have a direct effect on our success, including health care, energy policies, education and stimulus initiatives.
After all, there is rarely, if ever, a piece of legislation or regulation that is not centered on or dependent on information or communication technologies.
Those working in innovation-based enterprises understand and appreciate the truths of high-tech. But our community of interests has continuously come up short in achieving legislative and regulatory successes commensurate with our economic value and potential. As our role continues to evolve and expand throughout the U.S. and global economy, so too must our influence and position in Washington.