Being invited to the White House is an honor and a thrill. Being able to further the promise of technology companies and Pittsburgh while there is a privilege.
It was my privilege, as I realized as I entered the security gate to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House on Tuesday morning. Once approved by Secret Service, I walked up the long outside set of stairs, which reminded me of Incan temples.
The entrance to the building, which our host later told us was built in 1789 for the secretary of war and state, was obviously created to be intimidating -- a home-court advantage of sorts. It worked.
Once inside, we needed to go through a second checkpoint where we got our credentials, went through airport-like security and were led to the auditorium where the president would later make a short statement to about 100 business people and two dozen TV camera operators from various media outlets.
My invitation came as part of a contingent of Pittsburgh business leaders there for a dialog with administration officials interested in getting our views related to the economy, jobs and other similar issues. Only at the last minute did we hear that we would be able to attend a statement by President Barack Obama that morning.
As people started filing into the auditorium, the Pittsburgh contingent became apparent. Audrey Russo, president of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, came in with a local tech entrepreneur. Joe Barron represented BlueTree Allied Angels and Rebecca Harris came on behalf of the Center for Women's Entrepreneurship at Chatham University. Ms. Harris was so happy to be there, she did a little dance when few were looking.
While waiting for Mr. Obama, I was able to speak with business leaders from Baltimore and Philadelphia, and learned much about the National Association of Asian American Professionals from its president, Brad Baldia, who sat next to me. Although the invitation asked that cameras not be carried in, many attendees took advantage of the hour-long wait to snap pictures with their smartphones.
The afternoon session was interactive, with panels by undersecretaries, chief information officers and deputy directors from the White House, as well as a presentation about the economy by Mark Doms, chief economist from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Not surprisingly, the Pittsburgh mayor's office was represented, too, by Chuck Half, city innovation and performance manager.
On the surface, the session was about jobs. But at the same time, it also provided our Pittsburgh contingent with an opportunity to do business the same way that Washington does business -- by getting to know each other in the halls of the White House Executive Offices and over lunch.
Our hosts guided us to tweet about the sessions (#WHBizForum & #AttheWH); but I suspect those who tweeted were those who would have done so anyway. This was true social networking -- face-to-face, being able to get into the depth of topics that wouldn't be as easily accomplished online. And it was cool -- in a low-tech way.
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