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Tech Companies Have Mixed Feelings Toward Trump Administration

Mar 18, 2017
Originally published on March 18, 2017 5:20 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we've mentioned, technology is a big part of South by Southwest. And it's also front and center in a tech conference that happened last week in Austin called South by Southwest Interactive. NPR's Laura Sydell was there, and she says there's a lot of interest in how the Trump administration will deal with tech companies. Some tech leaders say they're nervous, but others say they're optimistic.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: There's a long list of reasons why Donald Trump wasn't the candidate of choice for most techies. He recommended a boycott of Apple when it wouldn't help the FBI break into the iPhone of a terrorist. Tech businesses rely heavily on immigrants. Then there's tech's commitment to green energy, which doesn't seem to interest the pro-oil and coal Trump administration. Hugh Forrest, the chief programming officer for South by Southwest, says he's hearing a lot of nervousness from, say, companies that make electric cars.

HUGH FORREST: I would imagine that the idea of a nationwide or a more robust nationwide network of charging stations will not move as fast as it would have under a different administration.

SYDELL: Forrest says he's added last-minute panels on the Trump administration and tech to this year's conference because many people are nervous and because it's not clear how the president, who doesn't even use a computer, will treat tech.

FORREST: I think that this administration at the top isn't as interested in tech as the last one was.

SYDELL: But some of the speakers here found reasons for optimism. Gary Shapiro is head of the Consumer Technology Association, or CTA, a trade group that represents a wide spectrum of tech companies from Verizon to Google.

GARY SHAPIRO: President Obama was great for tech, but he was bad for business. President Trump could be great for business, and we're not sure where he'll be for tech.

SYDELL: Shapiro says the uptick in the stock market means there's more money to invest in startups. On taxes, Shapiro says Trump wants American companies to bring money back into the country without facing a huge tax burden.

SHAPIRO: He's talking about repatriation of funds that are overseas, most of which are held by tech companies - big amounts of money.

SYDELL: And even on immigration, Shapiro sees an opening to work with Trump.

SHAPIRO: He's willing to look at merit-based immigration, which is the first time we've heard this phrase, which we've been advocating. Let's look at who we want here. Let's go get those - the best and the brightest from around the world. Let's burn down the barriers that stop them from coming here.

SYDELL: There are some areas in tech where regulation has gotten in the way, and so Trump's anti-regulatory bent could be helpful. Jesse Blumenthal is the manager of tech and innovation at the Charles Koch Institute. Blumenthal says drone companies, even ones that might help save lives, face a lot of regulatory hurdles. He points to a company called Zipline. It's already in Rwanda, where its drones deliver blood for emergencies.

JESSE BLUMENTHAL: And they've got a good portion of the country covered with these drones that can travel something like 60 miles an hour and get the blood in a matter of minutes or hours to a place that might have taken days to reach.

SYDELL: And Zipline designs and builds its product in California. And yet, regulations prevent it from launching drones in the U.S. Still, the culture of tech companies tend to be socially liberal and global in its ambitions, values that aren't in sync with the Trump administration. So even if tech and Trump find some common interests, they aren't likely to be BFFs. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.