Silicon Valley innovation leaders raise volume on economy

150 150 Gina Baleria

Dr. Emmett Carson, CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation addresses the Silicon Valley regional forum in Santa Clara, CA at the start of an energetic discussion on the economy. (Photo credit: Tomas Ovalle)

It used to be that what was good for Detroit was good for the nation, said Russ Hancock, panel moderator and CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley at the Silicon Valley Regional Economic Forum. “Maybe it’s time for us to say, ‘What’s good for Silicon Valley is good for America.'”

Silicon Valley is indeed leading the nation in the economic recovery. A new survey from the Silicon Valley Index finds that the region is growing at 3.8 percent, adding 42,000 jobs in 2011, compared to a 1.1 percent growth rate for the rest of the nation.

“We have an obligation and moral imperative to help our country cope,” said Tom Hayes, vice president of corporate marketing at Marvell. “We should pool our resources and speak for the future of the economy. If we don’t, I don’t know who will.”

State Senator Joe Simitian admitted this is a major challenge in Washington, DC. “As long as it continues to be an ideological debate, we’re stuck. But, if we can talk about it in practical terms, we can untangle it and get through the logjam.” The key is having a unified voice.

Investment, innovation, and collaboration were touted as the keys to economic and general success. “The way we collaborate in Silicon Valley is critical to making this ecosystem work,” said panelist Eric Reed with Verizon Communications.

The 350 attendees agreed, with the majority supporting:

  • more partnerships between government agencies and private businesses
  • investment in technological and transportation infrastructure
  • more state support of regional partnerships among cities, counties, and special districts.

In real-time, smartphone voting held throughout the event, the audience also demonstrated it wanted to see affordable access to higher education.

“Whatever we do in education needs to be bold. We’ve done all the moderate things already. We need to do something meaningful to change what’s going on in our schools,” said one audience member.

“It takes a little longer, but if we don’t (invest), we won’t be a great state or a great country,” said panelist Zia Yusuf, CEO of Streetline.

One of the primary ways to reinvest in California’s education system is having schools partner with businesses. Adrienne Tissier with the San Mateo Board of Supervisors said educators must “go out and talk to the employers to find out what their future needs are.”

Emily Kinner, a student trustee with Foothill-DeAnza College District, said the state has decreased its investment in education so much, that it’s up to the leaders in the room to turn things around.

“You are such influential leaders,” Kinner said. “Come to our campuses, help us, and invest in our students with internships or training.” Then students can “help make (California) more prosperous and send a message to our state and federal government that we’re worth investing in.”

At the end of the day, “what’s good for our economies has to be good for our communities,” said Karen Engel, executive director of the East Bay Economic Development Alliance.

The Silicon Valley Regional Economic Forum is one of 14 around the state, designed to flesh out economic priorities for each region. The entire state will come together on May 11 for the first annual statewide Economic Summit.


Gina Baleria

All stories by: Gina Baleria