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World leaders keep coming back to California

Haiti prime miniter Laurent Lamothe (shown here with Sean Penn) greets CEO Marc Benioff in Silicon Valley last fall.
Haiti prime miniter Laurent Lamothe (shown here with Sean Penn) greets CEO Marc Benioff in Silicon Valley last fall.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California has always been a significant destination of choice for world leaders and multinationals seeking to connect with technology innovators and disruptors. But the first half of this year has seen more visits by heads-of-state, top government officials, and multinational CEOs from foreign countries to Silicon Valley than anyone can ever remember. And experts who consult with foreign countries say this is only the beginning.

Just in the space of the last two weeks, Silicon Valley hosted President Obama, His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan, and a large delegation of French government officials leading a group of the country’s tech startups. This follows visits to San Francisco by French President Francois Hollande and a group of Irish leaders earlier this year, all talking about technology.

It’s an interesting trend because these visits run counter to the organic growth of the technology sector over the past decade. With the Internet now driving business on a global scale, one would think that the need to visit Silicon Valley would be less, not more. Perhaps even more significantly, other tech centers continue to spring up not just in the U.S. but around the world.

There’s “Silicon Alley” (lower Manhattan), “Silicon Beach” (Santa Monica), “Silicon Forest” (Portland), “Silicon Hills” (Austin), and “Philicon Valley” (area near Philadelphia). Outside the U.S., you can make your way to “Silicon Wadi” (coastal plains of Israel), “Silicon Fen” (Cambridge, England), “Silicon Saxony” (near Dresden, Germany), “Silicon Docks” (Dublin, Ireland), and “Silicon Welly” (Wellington, New Zealand). This is just a fraction; the list goes on and on.

One of the executives with an intriguing perspective on what’s driving overseas interest in Silicon Valley these days is Mark Zawacki. He’s the founder of 650 Labs, a strategic consulting firm which advises large non-technology multinationals on how to react to the tidal wave of change being generated out of the Valley.

According to Zawacki, the message of focused growth and innovation has particular appeal in Europe. “Our message resonates there,” says Zawacki.

He points out that Silicon Valley has evolved into a mass of “serial acquirers” where the biggest players such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and Oracle hungrily gobble start-up technology to rapidly grow their business rather than go through the painstaking and expensive process of developing a lot of it themselves. And if a start-up wants to get “eaten,” they need to be neatly dressed and garnished on a silver plate in the center of the dining table for all to see. “If it scales, it gets acquired in the Valley,” says Zawacki.

As for the notion that other growing tech centers might one day supplant Silicon Valley as the center of the innovative universe, Zawacki scoffs at the possibility. “Every time something gets big in New York, it gets acquired in Silicon Valley, Zawacki points out.

Current data backs him up. A study by CB Insights shows that California (primarily Silicon Valley) was the area of the country with the most private companies acquired. New York was second. And the biggest acquirers were….you guessed it….Google and Facebook.

World leaders read the news like the rest of us and know where to find the biggest stage when their country needs help. Last November, Haiti’s prime minister - Laurent Lamothe – appeared onstage with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff during the mammoth Dreamforce Conference in San Francisco to ask for jobs and aid following a devastating earthquake. After that appearance, he met with top executives at Facebook, Google and Apple, barely a half-hour’s drive down the road.

Laurent returned home with technology tools to help rebuild his country. That’s a prime example of the power the Valley offers these days and it is why he and other leaders around the world will likely return again.

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