This may not be a great year for Silicon Valley, but it's a golden opportunity for the tech industry to make its case in Washington. Bailout free, the sector has what desperate policy-makers are now looking for: solutions.
Healthcare reform? Electronic health records are part of the solution. Energy and the environment? Smart grids and technologies make us more energy efficient. It wasn't a coincidence that when President Obama had his first meeting with CEOs, it was with the leaders of the tech industry. In a sea of black hats (Wall Street, automakers, banks, and insurance companies), the tech sector still wears white.
This hasn't always been the case. During the Bush years, the tech industry was viewed much like the A/V club in the eyes of the football team – they didn't get them and therefore largely ignored them. They weren't special. Now they are again. Granted, it's not quite to the level of the good old days of the late 1990s, when the Internet was new and the possibilities seemed limitless (remember “Dow 36,000”?).
But at a time when Americans are questioning the country's ability to remain the global economic leader, they can always fall back to the fact that when it comes to technology, the US still has the lion's share of compelling stories.
Now, the question becomes, what does the tech industry do with this newfound status in Washington? The challenge is, and has always been, that the industry does not speak with one voice. It's more like a kindergarten class with 22 5-year-olds.
Now the industry has to prove it's growing up. It has to present a united and compelling vision of what the economy should look like. It must be able to deliver the hard truth: that this recession is like a bad storm that has naturally pruned the weakest branches of our economy. That those old jobs aren't – and shouldn't be – coming back, and that we must invest in the jobs our current 12-year-olds will be doing in 10 years, not what our fathers and mothers
did a decade ago.
That's not an easy message to deliver, but it's one a well-respected industry must put forth. If tech wants that place at the table, it has to step up to the plate.
Tom Galvin is a partner at 463 Communications, a DC-based senior-level comms consultancy. He previously served as VP of corporate communications and government relations at VeriSign.