Silicon Valley hopes its ideas will inspire Obama

President Barack Obama speaks after touring an Intel facility in Hillsboro, Ore., Friday, Feb.18, 2011. Obama spoke about the chip maker's education initiatives and investment in domestic manufacturing. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
February 18, 2011 8:14:28 PM PST
After spending Thursday night talking with a who's who of Silicon Valley technology leaders in Woodside, President Obama boarded Air Force One Friday morning to visit a new Intel chip making facility in the Portland, Oregon suburb of Hillsboro. While no one is disclosing what they discussed, here is what Silicon Valley thinks will come out of that gathering.

It's still a mystery what was discussed when the president met with 12 Silicon Valley giants. ABC7 reached out to each of them, but all turned us down or didn't respond. White House photos and video at least confirmed that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wore a suit, instead of his usual hoodie. There is common ground, however.

Obama peered through windows where he could see how tiny transistors - near a billion of them - are imbedded into tiny silicon wafers. The process is done inside what's known as a clean room -- a dust and particle free environment, which would have required the president to don a white jump suit, cover his shoes, and wear a hair net to enter.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini is a new member of the president's council on jobs and competitiveness. Otellini and Intel are big supporters of science competitions and education. The president got to see some student projects while visiting a new Intel chip making plant. He addressed why education is vital to the nation's future.

"The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations," Obama said. "In today's economy, the quality of a nation's education is one of the biggest predictors of a nation's success. It is what will determine whether the American Dream survives."

The president left Silicon Valley about the time one of its signature gatherings was kicking off at downtown San Jose's McEnery Convention Center. The State of the Valley conference is held annually by Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network to be the region's town hall meeting. Its yearly analysis of the social, educational and economic vitality was released on Monday, indicating ongoing concerns about education and the newly emerging challenge of public sector job loss as the private sector begins to show signs of recovery.

The president's visit was a major topic of discussion at the conference. Academic and community leaders believe the president needs to cajole tech companies to refocus on operations and job creation in the U.S., even though many are making more than half their sales overseas.

"A lot of these technology companies are really global now, they have development centers around the world, they have markets around the world, so how do you inspire those companies also to invest more here and how to share the benefits of that innovation with the real economy?" said Duncan Clark from the Stanford program on innovation.

However, U.S. companies are reluctant to bring home overseas earnings due to a 35 percent tax rate.

"These companies are sitting on millions and millions, if not billions, of dollars that they've earned overseas that they can't bring back here," said Dick King from The Tech Museum.

The total amount sitting offshore is estimated at $1 trillion. Once again, ideas emanating from Silicon Valley will help the president shape public policy that will elevate the entire national economy.

The 12 invited guests who met with Obama over dinner were: Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz, Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Stanford President John Hennessy, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Westly Group founder Steve Westly, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Genentech chairman Art Levinson, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt.


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