Corbett sells Silicon Valley on state's offerings

Governor aims to create partnerships between Keystone State and Calif. businesses

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On a trade mission to the nation's high tech Mecca this week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett began the process of convincing some of the biggest names in technology to consider moving east.

Mr. Corbett, along with Pittsburgh Technology Council CEO Audrey Russo, Carnegie Mellon University vice president Mark Kamlet and the heads of 15 regional tech startups, headed to California's Silicon Valley Monday to promote the state and its assets to some of that region's most prominent names.

Additionally, the governor said the trip was a fact-finding mission to discuss how technology can help the Keystone State run more efficiently. The trip was paid for by the Harrisburg-based Team Pennsylvania Foundation, a charitable non-profit designed to forge partnerships between the government and private sector companies.

Silicon Valley, which encompasses the entire Santa Clara Valley community and has expanded throughout San Francisco's Bay Area, is home to hundreds of the world's most prominent tech companies, including Apple, Yahoo and Intel, to name a few.

It is also known for having the largest venture capital community in the nation. According to the Money Tree Report, a study conducted by the National Venture Capital Association, the Bay Area accounted for 46 percent of the nation's venture funding for the second quarter of this year.

The Pennsylvania delegation met with seven major tech firms, including Google, Facebook and EA Sports to discuss the potential for future partnerships. Startup CEOs were put into contact with 40 venture capital firms and also were able to network with members of tech advocacy groups TechNet and Tech America on Tuesday. Wednesday, the group met with officials from Hewlett Packard and took a tour of CMU's Silicon Valley campus at the NASA Research Park.

Eric Silver, founder and CEO of North Shore-based content management site Webkite, said the trip gave him a chance to meet with funding sources that could help the company to think internationally in terms of growth.

"There will always be different sets of networks, but being able to connect our network of intelligent educated professionals with a network of funders really for us changes the game and changes where we can start thinking about where we're going to take our business and the company we're going to build," he said.

Mr. Corbett said no commitments were made to come to the commonwealth during the initial meetings, but the group had made progress in what he called the beginning of a "courtship period."

"The conversations we had [Tuesday] with many of these companies is that they're continuing to look for more and more students to become employees and we have that intelligence resource in Pennsylvania. We want to be able to hopefully attract those companies to not only use the students from Pennsylvania but to use them in Pennsylvania because we'd like to see that growth here," he said during a conference call from CMU's Silicon Valley campus.

While Mr. Corbett said he didn't meet with any government leaders in the area, he was aware that incentives such as tax credits are a large part of what attracts tech investments to certain areas. California's Enterprise Zone Tax incentive offers deductions for business expenses, net interest and net operating loss for investors, and also offers hiring credits and sales or use tax credits.

Although Mr. Corbett said Pennsylvania is not in a position to offer similar tax credits for this year's budget, he said he discussed the issue with officials at EA Sports and could be open to the idea under more favorable financial circumstances.

Mr. Corbett said Pennsylvania offers a number of perks for tech companies looking for a new home.

He said bike trails and city-adjacent neighborhoods found in Pittsburgh are attractive to Silicon Valley employees used to biking to work. He also noted that Pennsylvania is within a one-day drive of the majority of the nation's population centers and that increased use of natural gas resources is driving down corporate energy costs.

Mr. Corbett couldn't say for sure what ideas Silicon Valley leaders took with them following his sales pitch, but he wasn't shy about what he was hoping to eventually bring back from the left coast.

"The purpose of these meetings could basically be described in one word and that word would be 'jobs,'" he said.

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Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1652.


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