Obama to dine with Bay Area high-tech titans

| by

San Francisco Chronicle
Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Political Writer

President Obama, making his eighth official visit to California, is coming to the Bay Area today for an intimate dinner with some of the Bay Area’s star high-tech executives – a session aimed at focusing on innovation, job creation and education.

“These are representatives of businesses who know a lot about private-sector job growth,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday. The trip is not a fundraiser, Carney added, as were Obama’s three previous trips to the region, a Democratic stronghold, since being elected in 2008.

Silicon Valley leaders said Obama’s decision to schedule a discussion with the region’s movers and shakers shows he is committed to making the United States a leader in a new global economy – this generation’s “Sputnik moment,” as he said in his State of the Union address last month.

“He’s completely dialed in to education, innovation and green technology,” said Steve Westly, a Bay Area venture capitalist and former state controller. “And the fact that he’s wanting to sit down with people here shows that he gets it. Everyone in California should feel good about his visit here.”

Who will be there

While the White House won’t release the official guest list for the presidential dinner until today, sources say many of the executives who met with Obama in Washington in December to discuss job creation are expected to attend today’s event.

Those leaders included Google’s Eric Schmidt, Intel’s Paul Otellini and Cisco Systems’ John Chambers. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg – whose company Obama has praised as an innovation leader – will be among the guests, Bloomberg News reported, citing a source with knowledge of the meeting.

Obama has also established ties with other Silicon Valley executives, many of whom are also generous Democratic donors, and who may be invited to today’s event. They include venture capitalist John Doerr and Westly, a key Obama fundraiser who served as co-chairman of the president’s California campaign.

Short stopover

Obama’s stopover will last less than 24 hours, with Air Force One scheduled to touch down in San Francisco this afternoon. The president will be whisked off to an unannounced private location for his dinner with the executives, the White House said.

He’ll overnight in the Bay Area before heading Friday morning to an Intel campus in Hillsboro, Ore., to highlight the firm’s educational programs, which focus on science, technology, engineering and math to help Americans prepare for well-paying jobs.

In the Bay Area today, Obama and the business leaders “will discuss our shared goal of promoting American innovation, and discuss his commitment to new investments in research and development, education and clean energy,” a White House official said in a statement this week.

During Obama’s last visit to the Bay Area – a pre-election campaign swing in October – he scheduled an hourlong private meeting with Apple CEO Steve Jobs in a San Francisco airport hotel. He also starred at a $30,000-a-head political fundraiser at the Palo Alto home of Google Vice President Marissa Mayer, where many of the guests were Silicon Valley insiders.

Obama’s latest Bay Area trip drew criticism from some people, who said he is engaged in a thinly veiled re-election effort that surrounds him with deep-pocketed business titans – potential campaign donors.

‘Pleasing donor base’

“This is about pleasing his donor base; it’s going where the big money is,” said Orson Aguilar, executive director of the Greenlining Institute in Berkeley, a multiethnic public policy group.

Rather than limiting his contacts to high-tech executives, Aguilar said, Obama should talk to leaders in the low-income, ethnic communities suffering most from the state’s high foreclosure and unemployment rates.

“It’s very disappointing. (The leaders of the) Googles and the Ciscos of the world don’t practice diversity in their own houses,” he said. “They barely have African Americans and Latinos working for them.”

Ron Nehring, chair of the California Republican Party, called Obama’s trip a 2012 “re-election campaign photo op.”

“It’s part of the deliberate White House strategy for Obama to reinvent himself since his November shellacking by the GOP,” said Nehring. “This is an attempt to change the subject.”

Patrick Dorinson, a political commentator, radio host and publisher of cowboylibertarian.com, argued that the president’s dinner agenda of “green energy and high-speed rail comes out of the Office of Management and Budget’s ‘unicorns, pipe dreams and boondoggles department.’ ”

Obama’s visit comes as a new study from California Forward, a government reform group, proposes ways to improve the jobs outlook in a state with a 12 percent unemployment rate. The report by the McKinsey Global Institute finds that to match the nation’s growth of the past 20 years. the United States must boost productivity from 1.7 to 2.3 percent annually.