The technology sector in San Francisco is developing at astronomical speed. Last year alone, tech employment grew by 17 percent, totaling more than 53,000 jobs in a city of 837,000 people. These numbers appear even more remarkable when you consider that in 2013 the city’s overall employment increased at a rate of 4.6 percent, while at the height of the dot-com bubble in 2001, San Francisco had approximately 30,000 tech jobs.
With such growth, it is unsurprising that the city has caught national attention. However, what remains a mystery is the continuing disconnect between innovative ecosystems, like the example of San Francisco, and Washington’s policy agenda. This is why the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) and Gephardt Government Affairs traveled to San Francisco last week to meet with a number of start-ups and have a candid discussion with members of the local tech incubator Parisoma. Our conversations revealed that similar to the sentiments present in other parts of the country, start-ups remain disillusioned and frustrated by Washington, D.C., and opt not to engage in the policymaking process until extenuating circumstances require them to do so.
Yet, currently there are numerous policy debates taking place in our nation’s capital that would benefit from voices outside the Beltway. One example is the immigration debate. After the Senate passed a bipartisan bill last year, the House has taken very little action for a myriad of reasons that have been offered. With more than half of Silicon Valley’s start-ups being founded by immigrants, these leaders could effectively align themselves with more established tech companies to send a clear message to Washington that successful immigration policy is at the heart of our nation’s innovative potential and overall economic competitiveness. Another area where start-up engagement with policymakers could go a long way is in the current policy debate over expanding broadband spectrum to improve access to Wi-Fi services for U.S. industry and consumers, to the benefit of large and small tech companies alike.
While start-ups stand to gain from engaging Washington, policymakers must also be more proactive in understanding and interacting with the innovation sector firsthand. One needs to go only as far as San Francisco’s countless incubators to truly grasp the dynamic and transformative potential of the technology that is being developed today by our country’s leading innovators. Moving forward, ITI will continue to work to bridge this policy gap to ensure that America’s East and West Coasts are moving in sync on the tech agenda.