Silicon Valley beefs up D.C. presence

Compete America, a coalition that advocates for immigration reform, including H1B visas for highly skilled workers, is looking to hire a new executive director to strengthen its operation, which has languished in the past year.

To be the voice of West Coast executives in Washington, the organizations have competition in the form of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a policy trade group that represents more than 300 companies. Carl Guardino, a prominent businessman and regional public figure in Northern California, has led the group for the past 12 years.

The group used to organize an annual trip to Washington for executives, but last year doubled the number of trips to meet with White House officials and lawmakers. In September, 50 executives packed their schedules with 70 meetings, and they’ll be back in May. There is no Washington-based staff.

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“We’re able to bring in a cross-section of industries when we show up, and the fact that we aren’t lobbyists adds to our influence,” said Kirk Everett, who guides the Leadership Group’s D.C. efforts. “Other groups are there on the ground, but we’re able to be tactical and go in when we’re most needed.”

Tax issues, including research and development tax credits and international tax deferral, are the focus of its efforts right now, Everett said. Transportation and energy issues, in both Silicon Valley and other tech-centric regions, are also high priorities.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) recently flew to California to meet with members of the group to discuss cap-and-trade and other climate policies. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also took a trip to Silicon Valley to have a roundtable discussion with members about healthcare.

The Technology CEO Council, another advocacy group that includes Dell CEO Michael Dell and IBM CEO Samuel Palmisano, organizes regular trips to Washington on specific issues. They were in D.C. last month to speak with senior administration officials.

Executive Director Bruce Mehlmann said the group “remains focused on international tax reform, opening markets to American technology leaders and enhancing investment and innovation.”