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Trump to meet with key US tech leaders: 6 questions that need to be answered

US President-elect Donald Trump recently invited US tech leaders to a summit at Trump Tower. Here's a list of who's attending, and the main issues that will need to be addressed.

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Image: iStockphoto/andykatz

Donald Trump, the US President-elect, invited a group of technology leaders to attend a summit at Trump Tower on Wednesday, December 14. The guest list includes executives from some of the biggest technology corporations in the world.

Recode recently reported that Alphabet CEO Larry Page, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, and Oracle CEO Safra Catz would be among those present. According to Recode, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos may attend as well.

Trump's relationship with the tech industry has been rocky. This summer, more than 100 tech leaders signed and published a letter calling Trump a "disaster for innovation." Additionally, his announced stances on encryption, trade, and immigration, have also rubbed tech leaders the wrong way.

SEE: Employee political activity policy (Tech Pro Research)

It may be too late for Trump to repair some of his relationships with tech's elite. However, the meeting is a good opportunity to discuss issues that affect the tech industry overall.

Here are the top six issues that need to be discussed at the meeting.

1. H-1B visas

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US-based companies to hire professionals who aren't US citizens for a specified period of time up to six years. These professionals must be working in "specialty occupations." That includes STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) jobs.

Currently, there are a limited supply of these visas available and demand, much of which is coming from tech companies, extends far beyond what is available. Many in tech have lobbied to expand the H-1B visa program to make it easier to hire non-US workers.

Trump has wavered in his view towards of H-1Bs, but his most vocal stance has been against the program, claiming he would "end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program." It is vital that Trump, and the tech leaders he is meeting with, discuss the future of the H-1B visa program, and how any changes to US immigration policies might affect tech hiring.

"While there is likely to be a discussion on H-1B, there should also be a discussion on immigration policies that encourage entrepreneurs to locate/maintain businesses in the US using a mix of tax, fiscal, and immigration policies. This will help the US maintain its technology advantage," said Matthew Guarini, a research director at Forrester Research.

2. Automation

While automation has impacted Americans jobs for years, recent advances in AI and machine learning promise to disrupt jobs even more in the near future. Trump, like many other candidates, ran his campaign on the promise of bringing good-paying jobs back to the US. However, some of the industries that were targeted are likely to be the most negatively impacted by automation and robotics.

US manufacturing, for example, remains large but has been hemorrhaging jobs since 1960. Trump recently made a deal with furnace manufacturer Carrier to keep one of its plants from moving to Mexico, but the CEO of Carrier's parent company said that the firm is investing in automation that will replace some of those jobs that were just saved.

Amazon also recently debuted Go, its grocery store that replaced human workers with AI and machine learning technologies, and Panasonic revealed a new machine that bags groceries for you. These are just the early days of the technology, and the President-elect will need to develop a strategy to address the impact of automation and how it will displace US workers. One particular issue could be how US businesses would deal with retraining employees whose jobs may have been replaced.

3. On-shore manufacturing

One of Trump's biggest campaign promises was that he would force Apple to manufacture its iPhone in the US. He also talked about taxing Ford an additional 35% for cars made in Mexico. These moves, meant to force big companies to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US, have much greater implications.

"Overseas manufacturing is a key part of most supply chains and the Chinese market has been an attractive consumer of technology," said Eric Hanselman of 451 Research.

The main problem is the increased cost from moving manufacturing back to the US. The MIT Technology Review looked at how US manufacturing would affect the iPhone, and discovered it could add another $30-$40 to the device's price. Also, due to some of the elements needed to build the iPhone, it would be impossible to wholly source the device from one country. Despite this, Trump remains persistent.

Trump reportedly got a call from Apple CEO Tim Cook after winning the election. According to Trump, he said the following to Cook:

Tim, you know one of the things that will be a real achievement for me is when I get Apple to build a big plant in the United States, or many big plants in the United States, where instead of going to China, and going to Vietnam, and going to the places that you go to, you're making your product right here.

Trump needs to focus on improving the productivity of the US economy, Guarini said. One way to do that would be with "improved fiscal and tax policies that encourage investment, an increased focus on innovation, and support for the funding, development, and implementation of emerging technologies including AI and AR/VR, among others," Guarini said.

4. Repatriation

It's no secret that many companies keep a large amount of cash outside of the US, including technology companies. To bring that money back to the US, Trump announced an economic repatriation plan that would allow companies to bring the money back into the country with a 10% tax, down from the current 35%.

However, if that money returns to the US, it could change the way these companies invest it. Critics of the plan said that it will only create jobs for financial engineers, leading to events like stock buybacks. And cutting back on the tax rate also means forgoing extra money that could be used for social good.

In 2004, a similar repatriation policy led to at least one major company cutting roughly 12,000 jobs. In the roundtable, Trump needs to clarify his position on repatriation and come up with a way to get tech companies to bring their money back into the US, without putting jobs at stake or allowing companies to avoid paying taxes in the first place. However, Hanselman said that "the ability to repatriate stranded cash overseas could have a big impact on not only bottom lines, but in flexibility in M&A activity, as well," Hanselman said.

5. Net neutrality

Net neutrality, the concept of keeping service providers from favoring or blocking certain web products or websites, has been a hot topic in American political discussions recently. However, it hasn't come up much in Trump's campaign. The only "clear" evidence of his stance came from a cryptic tweet that suggests he opposes it.

To add to that, FCC Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was recently not confirmed by the Senate, and current chair Tom Wheeler is expected to leave in January. That leaves the FCC with a Republican majority, which could lead to a net neutrality rollback if Trump wants to move in that direction.

Also, as noted by ZDNet's Chris Kanaracus, Trump has appointed Jeff Eisenach and Mark Jamison—who worked for Verizon and Sprint respectively, and are known opponents of net neutrality—to his Federal Communications Commission team.

Net neutrality is an important issue for businesses and consumers alike, and Trump must decide where he stands regarding that issue and work with the attendees of his roundtable to determine the best move forward.

6. Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is another key topic that will need to be addressed at Trump's meeting with tech leaders. After voicing his opposition to Apple refusing to unlock an iPhone for the FBI, and his nomination of NSA surveillance support Mike Pompeo to lead the CIA, Trump ignited some fears among the tech community on his take on encryption and surveillance.

Trump also recently pushed back against a CIA report that Russian hackers worked to interfere with the election, calling it a "conspiracy theory." Trup then tweeted: "Unless you catch "hackers" in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn't this brought up before election?"

Cybersecurity, encryption, and surveillance issues must all be addressed at Trump's summit meeting if the President-elect wants to gain support from the tech leaders he is meeting with.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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