U.S. Chamber of Commerce Heads West To Help Silicon Valley Back East
Earlier this year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced its plan to open its first office outside the DC area, in the heart of Silicon Valley. The group hopes its deep roots in lobbying and advocacy can attract Bay Area-techies as they look to navigate national policy issues.
Technology industry trade associations and advocacy groups have been popping up left and right and left again over the past few years, all with an eye toward advancing the industry and positioning it a little closer to the folks on K St. in Washington, DC.
That trend is starting to come full circle now.
Shortly after the Internet Association (IA), a DC-based tech lobby, announced its plan to open an office on the West Coast to bring the organization closer to the companies it represents, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce followed suit.
The Chamber’s Center for Advanced Technology & Innovation opened its doors this week and will hold its first official event on Thursday—a screening of “Underwater Dreams,” a new documentary about four teenage boys, children of Mexican immigrants, who compete against MIT engineers in a robotics competition.
When IA made the coast-to-coast leap, President and CEO Michael Beckerman said the organization’s focus would be to help California lawmakers understand how they could “provide valuable leadership by encouraging technology-friendly policies that do not dampen our innovation economy’s unmatched growth potential.” The Chamber’s goals, as its West Coast staff settle into their San Francisco office, will be broader.
David Chavern, president of the new center and former Chamber COO, recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that the organization will offer tech companies something that industry groups can’t—the services of a 500-person corps of lobbyists and lawyers working in the nation’s capital.
“I’m not running away from the establishment thing,” Chavern said. “I have the infrastructure to help Washington understand [tech companies] better.”
Some industry experts have questioned the move, considering the history of the Chamber’s positions on certain issues. The group was a strong proponent of antipiracy legislation, known as SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate, which the tech industry opposed—both bills ultimately failed. The Chamber has also remained silent in the battle over net neutrality.
“On the issues that matter most to Silicon Valley, they’ve either been on the opposite side or unable to take a position,” one anonymous tech-industry lobbyist told the Washington Post this week. “If you can’t advocate for a very specific position, what value is that to an industry or a company?”
Chavern has already done some reaching out, though, and has enlisted the support of a few organizations, including the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a trade association that represents some top tech companies in the area, including Google, Facebook, and Yahoo.
“We found that there are several places where we agree,” SVLG CEO Carl Guardino told the Chronicle. “There’s always room for people to be advocating for the needs of the technology community.”