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Commerce Secretary has open message for Silicon Valley

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“I’m a Silicon Valley girl.” With that opening quote in her first official Silicon Valley appearance as Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker reached out to the tech community at a gathering today of Bay Area politicians and technology leaders. Whether her heartfelt statements in support of many issues that the tech community holds dear lead to real results is another matter.

The Commerce Secretary’s ties to Silicon Valley stem from her childhood and college graduate years when she attended a prestigious girls’ school in Palo Alto, California and Stanford University. She also carries an impressive business resume as the former CEO of PSP Capital Partners and the founder of a large network of offsite airport parking facilities.

Today’s lunchtime gathering was held at the Plug and Play technology accelerator in Sunnyvale, California. It was hosted by The Churchill Club in partnership with TechNet, TechAmerica, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and

Pritzker took great care to promote her belief that the number one, two and three biggest customers for the Commerce Department are business, business, and business. In fact, she told the gathering that on her first day in office she hung an old fashioned sign on her door with the slogan “Open for Business” prominently displayed.

Being open for business means listening to the customer and giving them what they want. And in her remarks today, Pritzker played to her audience by briefly running through a list of the “hot button” issues she knows the technology community cares about and which she supports.

These include patent streamlining (the Commerce Department now has a patent office in Silicon Valley), immigration reform, new technology trade agreements, and more investment in research and development. Pritzker also announced that more data will be made available by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), and the government’s Census Explorer interactive map will now include tech workforce and payroll information.

There was one humorous moment during a question and answer session that was led by LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner when Pritzker was asked by an engineer if she had any advice on how to handle a visa problem so he could stay in the country and contribute his technological knowhow. This is not an issue the Commerce Department handles, but fortunately for Pritzker, Bay Area Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren was in the audience, positioned directly behind the startled engineer and volunteered to help. “And when I say that your representative stands behind you on this, I really mean it,” joked Pritzker to great applause.

The Commerce Secretary has shown more interest in today’s social media tools than many of her predecessors. Pritzker recently became the first cabinet official to launch her own Instagram account. The first two photos were of her alarm clock and showing her in the backseat of a car on the way to work.

At one point, LinkedIn’s Weiner asked the Commerce Secretary what marching orders she received from President Obama after she was nominated for the cabinet post. “He told me he wanted someone who would be a bridge to the business community,” Pritzker recalled. The first section of the bridge span for Silicon Valley was officially christened today, but it remains to be seen whether the technology community will benefit from the government agency's ambitious agenda. Just seven months into her new job, Pritzker has a lot of work to do. There are less than three years left for this administration and the clock is ticking.


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