President Obama sounded many of the right notes during Tuesday's State of the Union speech, but continued economic uncertainty and political deadlock have many in the tech industry skeptical of any plans coming out of Washington.
Obama emphasized the importance of returning manufacturing jobs to the United States, and he touched on issues promoted by the tech lobby, including tax reform, education, and immigration. He also planned to visit an Intel plant in Arizona on Wednesday as part of his post-State of the Union tour.
But now the tech industry wants action.
In a market where products can rise and fall in a matter of days, and business models are challenged daily, the pace of action in Washington tempered enthusiasm for the president's proposals.
“The tech industry has been a consistent investor in this country—on average, each technology industry job supports three jobs in other sectors of the U.S. economy—and now we’re looking for cooperation and certainty from Washington to help us continue to be the world’s leader,” Dan Varroney, acting president of TechAmerica, said in a statement. “[Tuesday’s] speech held a lot of promise. What we need now is follow through.”
The industry reaction largely mirrored the "tempered optimism" expressed by tech executives in a study released by the IT trade group CompTIA on Tuesday. CompTIA Vice President Tim Herbert said that many in the industry are expecting "a dose of bad news with any good news" as the economy struggles to rebound in the coming year.
While Obama’s focus on manufacturing is a “welcome message,” a more comprehensive approach is needed, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation said in a statement.
“We have a long way to go to revitalize this critical sector. What matters now is matching words with action,” the group said. “The president and many members of Congress agree on such issues as in-sourcing, manufacturing competitiveness, and R&D. They should not wait until after the election to act.”
The Business Software Alliance praised Obama’s plan to crack down on the "scourge" of counterfeit goods and establish a Trade Enforcement Unit to investigate unfair trade practices.
Although Obama did not expand on broadband deployment plans announced during last year’s speech, National Telecommunications Cooperative Association Shirley Bloomfield said she was pleased that he recognized that an incomplete broadband system is undermining economic growth, especially in rural areas. The White House should look to small, rural telecom companies to help expand broadband access, she said.
"These technology leaders have demonstrated their tenacity and creativity in building network infrastructure that reaches every member of their communities," Bloomfield said. "If we want to support innovation and ensure broadband connections, the administration needs to invest in these small businesses who make it happen in their communities every day.”
The reaction from tech leaders in Congress was largely divided along party lines.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., kept to the broader Republican talking points, castigating the president for repeating old rhetoric that isn’t backed up by action.
“The president said we have an incomplete high-speed broadband network, but his Federal Communications Commission is protecting its turf instead of joining us to free up airwaves to build the next generation communications networks,” said Upton, who has been among the critics of the FCC’s Internet competition rules. “And while he acknowledged that some regulations are outdated, unnecessary, or too costly, the reality is that the vast federal bureaucracy continues to churn out some of the most expensive rules in history, putting jobs at risk and driving up prices for middle-class families.”
Obama earned praise from Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., for mentioning cybersecurity (albeit briefly); from House Cybersecurity Caucus Cochairman Jim Langevin, D-R.I., for addressing the “skills gap” that prevents many high-tech jobs from being filled; and from Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., for promoting innovation and national broadband connectivity.
“I have pushed for affordable high-speed and wireless Internet to be available to communities all across our country, and believe it's crucial that we close the digital divide in rural America,” Rockefeller said in his response.