Commerce Secretary reaches out to Silicon Valley

The relationship between the Obama administration and Silicon Valley has been a bit rocky this past year, what with the NSA revelations.

U.S. Commerce Sec. Penny Pritzker is in Silicon Valley this week with the message that the administration is doing a lot for business and entrepreneurs and plans to do more. The visit, her first to the area as Commerce Secretary, is part of the administration’s charm offensive to repair its relationship with the business community. Pritzker is on a listening tour around the country, as Bloomberg reported.

At the Plug and Play Tech Center, the Sunnyvale accelerator where PayPal and Dropbox began, Pritzker touted Monday the President’s actions such as signing the JOBS Act, enacting three trade agreements and pushing for both patent and immigration reforms. The former Obama campaign co-chairman also cited recent articles that posit healthcare reform will be a boon to entrepreneurs.

Her message? “The Department of Commerce is a service agency,” she said at the event organized by The Churchill Club. She also is scheduled to visit Google, Facebook and eBay.

On the job just eight months, Pritzker has made an early mark on social media by being the first cabinet secretary with her own Instagram account. She is pushing Commerce to make available more of its treasure trove of data. “Data is the fuel of innovation in the 21st century,” Pritzker said.

At Plug and Play, Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, chatted on stage with the secretary on the long-term unemployed (LinkedIn has pledged to hire long-term unemployed), encouraging girls to achieve (ask for advice, the secretary advised), and doing business in Washington (relationships matter, Pritzker said).

After the event, Pritzker, 54, a Chicago-based business person and a Hyatt Hotel heiress, met with the press and addressed the administration’s relationship with tech:

I talk to leaders of your bigger companies regularly. The relationship for the most part is in pretty good shape. Look, not everyone likes every aspect of what the administration is doing. Having said that there is a lot of support for the direction we are going.

One source of contention, however, is the administration’s new big data privacy review, which sprung from the NSA disclosures. It will likely include a discussion of what tech companies are doing with data, something that tech has viewed with a “mixed reception,” Pritzker said. “But it’s time for that conversation to occur.”

The administration is not approaching the issue with a foregone conclusion, she said.  “We should have a conversation as opposed to just evolving and then finding ourselves at odds.”

Above: LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Sec. of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Saeed Amidi, the chief executive of Plug and Play at an event organized by The Churchill Club. (Credit: Plug and Play).


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  • jim zubrowski

    Did anyone ask Pritzker why the Vi senior housing facility in Palo Alto (owned by one of Pritzker’s family entities) has transferred millions from the cash reserves into the great sucking sound of Pritzker’s family holding company based in Chicago? Yet another of the Chicago too-closely related political power brokers. Count your fingers after dealing with Pritzker or any of her ilk. And then recount them regularly.