By Michael Beckerman & Gary Shapiro
March 16, 2017 at 5:00 am ET
In his first address to Congress, President Donald Trump asked all Americans to embrace the “renewal of the American spirit” and “believe in [the] future.” We can all agree that a strong American future is possible through bipartisan cooperation within government and industry. This means that we, as representatives of America’s most exciting industry, must work with the government we have to ensure a bright future for the United States. It also means Trump should continue down the path he took in his address and paint an optimistic and inspirational picture of our future.
The U.S. technology sector leads the world and is a critical element of our nation’s continued economic success. Today’s innovations allow small businesses in towns across America to easily access and sell to customers around the world. Doctors can use the power of the internet to connect with and diagnose patients virtually from almost anywhere in the country. First responders can better assess and react to emergency situations with the help of drones. And homeowners can use smart home products to lower their energy costs and make their homes safer.
In addition to the tangible benefits of technology in our daily lives, the tech sector supports more than 15 million U.S. jobs and generates $413 billion in U.S. taxes. It creates $3.5 trillion in total economic output – more than 10 percent of our country’s gross domestic product. Driven by global tech leaders, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, and the next generation of disruptive technology companies such as Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber, there’s every reason to believe the U.S. tech sector’s economic strength and value, at home and abroad, will increase exponentially.
We’re committed to working with the new administration to continue this success. The future starts now, not two years down the road at midterm elections or four years from now with the 2020 presidential election. We won’t always agree with Trump. When he’s wrong – such as when he created a discriminatory travel ban – we must speak up. We also (along with the broader business community), must reaffirm our commitment to fight discrimination against the LGBT community. The tech industry needs the best talent, regardless of race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity. But fighting for what we believe is right shouldn’t close the door to a constructive working relationship with our elected officials.
In his address to Congress, Trump hinted the U.S. should adopt a merit-based immigration system similar to Australia and Canada. We agree with the president ’s sentiment on this. The United States must be able to attract the best and brightest so tech companies can continue to grow in America and create more jobs for more Americans, instead of operating in a foreign country looking to challenge our lock on the innovation economy. If our immigration system doesn’t welcome these incredibly talented individuals, it becomes more difficult for our companies to innovate and grow the economy.
And Trump’s plan to invest in roads presents a cost-efficient and timely opportunity to lay down the kind of broadband infrastructure needed to support the growing Internet of Things. He can also cut a deal with the tech industry to bring back the $2 trillion dollars parked overseas by many tech companies and use it to help pay for infrastructure spending.
Tech also must help shape the conversation on federal regulation. Successful, smart regulation requires a careful balancing act. On the one hand, over-regulation can crush the small startups where America’s most imaginative and innovative ideas often come to life. On the other hand, under-regulation and allowing states to craft their own policies can lead to an inefficient patchwork of rules that prevents new technology from emerging smoothly.
On a more practical level, the tech industry will need to join the discussion around tax reform. Fortunately, Trump is dedicated to reforming our tax system to make America both the most advanced and the most successful nation in the world. We must not shy away from offering input as our president works to make this vision a reality.
We understand the frustration many of those in the tech sector feel. We have spent years advocating for an immigration policy that welcomes the best and brightest, regardless of their nationality. Immigrants have started more than half of America’s startup companies valued at $1 billion or more, creating an average of 760 jobs per company in the United States. And we can’t fill the nation’s technology development needs on our own. By 2018, our country will face a shortfall of more than 223,000 workers in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
International trade is another area where we see opportunities to work with the administration. Digital trade is exactly the type of trade that Trump wants. The employees and value are here, but the customers are abroad. In fact, the United States currently runs a massive $159 billion trade surplus on digitally enabled services. As the administration looks to update our trade agreements, there is an enormous opportunity to benefit American workers through digital trade provisions that allow U.S. internet companies to thrive abroad. But the benefits of digital trade don’t stop with the tech industry: 75 percent of the internet’s benefits go to traditional industries.
Refusing to work with Trump by sitting out this presidency – or refusing to support pro-innovation Republicans – is bad for America and will harm the future of our industry. As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recently said on the Senate floor, “I don’t know of a single nation in the history of the world that has been able to solve its problems when half the people in a country absolutely hate the other half of people in that country.” Tech must continue to engage in the discussion over the next four years – fearlessly challenging what doesn’t work, but also championing what does.
As Trump began to wrap up his speech to Congress, he referred to a “new chapter of American greatness.” The tech sector stands ready to embrace our country’s next millennium, one filled with greatness and global excellence – but this will only be possible if we, as a nation, ignore ideological boundaries and instead stand together.
Michael Beckerman is president and CEO of Internet Association, which represents America’s leading internet companies.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies.
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