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Tech Groups Weigh In

The techies, like just about every other business sector in town, are ready to download a cure for the country’s economic ills. Not surprisingly, the priorities they want included in an economic stimulus package coincide with many of the industry’s legislative priorities.

Eight high-tech associations sent a letter on Tuesday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) spelling out what their industry wants to see included in any legislative effort to boost the nation’s bottom line.

“If we are to jump start our economy and get it back on the road to recovery, we will need more than a new battery and another tank of gas,” said the letter signed by the heads of such groups as the Information Technology Industry Council, TechNet, the Business Software Alliance and the Telecommunications Industry Association.

The industry is calling for a long-term extension to the now-expired tax credit for companies doing research and development, tax incentives to spur the purchase of energy-saving products and more technology for medical records, as well as visas for skilled workers who have studied in the United States and tax credits for companies to replace aging computer equipment.

While some of the ideas, such as the R&D tax credit, are popular throughout the broader business community, critics warn that if too many industries pile on their wish lists, it could jeopardize wider efforts to help the economy.

“We at NAW are not putting together a wish list,” said the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors’ Jade West. “This is not the time for that. I don’t think anybody ought to be shopping a personal agenda or an industry agenda,” added West, the group’s senior vice president of government relations. “And if it means an industry doesn’t get what it wants right now, too bad.”

But Jon Hoganson, director of government relations for ITI, which spearheaded the letter, said the groups’ proposals are not industry-specific and that all the measures would boost the broader economy.

“This is a letter we generated,” Hoganson said. “But it’s something we’re working with everybody on.”

Rhett Dawson, ITI’s president and CEO, added that his industry reacted quickly to articulate its message on the economy.

“We pulled our company members together last week, on Tuesday, and sat down and compared notes,” he said. They continued working over the weekend to get the letter out this week.

The techies, of course, aren’t the only industry to reach out to Congress on the stimulus. Already the National Association of Manufacturers and financial services groups have contacted Members about the effort.

“Everybody will be trying to scramble around to get their own particular ideas put forward,” Dawson said. “Our plan is to get up to the Hill and talk to both sides of the aisle and work with our colleagues that are the signatories of the letter.”

Phillip Bond, president and CEO of the Information Technology Association of America, who also signed the letter, said that even though there may be competition among other sectors, “We’ll make our case based on economic impact.

“We think that in addition to being timely, targeted and temporary, that it shouldn’t be timid,” he added. “Let’s be strategic. We need to shape this into a more strategic reaction looking at American competitiveness.”

Maggie Hershey, the senior director of U.S. public policy at SEMI North America, which also was a signatory, said her group will start meeting with Members and Hill offices next week. The letter’s main point, she said, is to provide a complement to the consumer spending side of the stimulus package and deal with some of the high-tech community’s fundamental issues.

“A lot of these have been priorities for a long time, and certainly relevant to an economic stimulus package,” said Hershey, whose group represents suppliers to semi-conductor device makers. “It underscores how important it is to invest in innovation since there is such a tangible benefit to the economy.”

The tech industry, Dawson adds, can speak with some authority because it has “really driven the economic growth and productivity” in recent years.

But not everyone in the business community is buying that argument.

“There is a perpetual and ongoing breakdown in communications between the old economy and the high-tech world, and the high-tech world doesn’t sometimes seem to see that the bubble burst on their economy,” said one business lobbyist. “They aren’t the driving force of the economy anymore, and they don’t play well with others.”

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