Congressman Ro Khanna has represented much of Silicon Valley since 2017. He’s also a notable critic of Big Tech, particularly when it comes to how the industry distributes its opportunities.
Khanna, who was recently appointed to the House conference committee for the tech research-boosting America COMPETES Act, represents a district that houses tech giants like Intel and Apple. He also recently wrote a book, called “Dignity in a Digital Age,” that calls for all sorts of changes to how Big Tech operates. Notably, he says tech jobs need to be available widely across the U.S. rather than concentrated in his district.
“There are going to be 25 million of these digital jobs… In addition to the jobs that are paying $80,000, that 25 million jobs, we need to make sure that the jobs in the service sector surrounding them are good paying jobs,” he said (video above). “It’s crazy there’s $11 trillion in market cap in my district, and yet someone in an Amazon warehouse — who’s making that whole process work — isn’t getting a livable wage and isn’t able to afford a house.”
The Bay Area has historically been the country’s major hub for high-paid tech jobs. Khanna’s district, for instance, in addition to Intel and Apple, also houses Cisco Systems, while other companies headquartered nearby include Uber, Adobe, Google, and its parent company Alphabet. There are some exceptions, like Microsoft and Amazon, both of which are based in Washington State. Amazon in particular has a physical footprint nationwide due to its fulfillment centers, which have been in the news lately due to workers’ unionization.
Some would argue that Big Tech is already working to better disperse jobs across the country. For instance, Google recently announced that it would invest more than $9 billion in data centers in several states, focusing on Nevada, Nebraska and Virginia. Khanna says yes, it’s a start, and that the America COMPETES Act will facilitate this process. The bill, which is all about setting the U.S. up to better compete with China, incentivizes tech businesses to, quite literally, spread the wealth geographically.
“It’s going to be a massive investment in building our technology infrastructure, in investing in cutting-edge science,” he said. “It’s the largest increase since the Kennedy years, and it’s going to lead to things like Intel investing $20 billion in Ohio to create manufacturing and construction jobs.”
When it comes to competing with China, the U.S. has a long way to go
The America COMPETES Act is in part modeled on the Endless Frontier Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in 2021 by Khanna, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Todd Young, and Representative Mike Gallagher. Much of the legislation’s focus on scientific research has its origins in Endless Frontier, including adding a Directorate to the National Science Foundation and creating new technology hubs across the country. To Khanna, it’s also not enough to establish these tech centers outside Silicon Valley. It’s just as vital, if not even more important, to invest in tech centers beyond Silicon Valley, he contends.
“I want to make sure that we have these tech hubs across America and that those hubs are adequately funded,” he said. “If we don’t adequately fund them, they won’t be a success.”
China looms large over the America COMPETES Act, and a major part of the bill focuses on providing support to the semiconductor industry amid a global chip shortage. In Khanna’s view, America’s ability to compete is tied, not only to the government’s support of chip manufacturing, but to universities.
“America needs to compete in production,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re winning in the breakthrough technology fields — AI, quantum computing, clean energy, electronics, manufacturing. We need to do that not just at MIT and Stanford, but across the country, taking advantage of our talent at our extraordinary land grant universities.”
When it comes to the U.S. fully challenging China’s tech surge, there’s still a long way to go.
“It’s just a start,” Khanna said. “We have to win this race. We need to make sure we lead in technology, and not China. We need to recognize that the global supply chains that run through China are at risk.”
Allie Garfinkle is a senior tech reporter at Yahoo Finance. Find her on twitter @agarfinks.