Ohio Meets Silicon Valley: Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) & Ro Khanna (D-CA) on Tech Innovation

January 12, 2018

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur is a Democrat who represents the ninth district of Ohio. Congressman Ro Khanna is a Democrat who represents the 17th district of California, better known as Silicon Valley. Cheddar sat the two members down to discuss innovation in America. How does Silicon Valley branch out to and revive middle America?

One challenge in Ohio is educating workers on how to use the latest technology. Rep. Kaptur says not all individuals are comfortable with the pace of technological change that influences every industry. Mechanical skills are not "broadly distributed," she said, and it is challenging for people to keep up. Rep. Khanna added that leaders need to support tech innovation in local industries, giving workers "specific, employable" skills that will guarantee jobs.

The two lawmakers agree that American trade deals, like the North American Free Trade Agreement, have negatively impacted American workers. Rep. Khanna says they have "hollowed out" jobs in Middle America. Rep. Kaptur agreed, saying the "industrial heartland" has been hit very hard by U.S. trade policies. President Trump promised repeal of NAFTA, but has not yet delivered on that promise. The two lawmakers say they are waiting for President Trump to make a decision on trade that they hope will positively impact Americans.


J.D. Durkin: I'm J.D. Durkin with Cheddar. We are here on Capitol Hill today to have a crucial conversation regarding the future of tech innovation, the heart of the American economy, and bridging the gap between Silicon Valley and Middle America. Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman, Marcy Kaptur. She represents the Ninth Congressional District for the great state of Ohio and Congressman Ro Khanna is also a Democrat who represents the 17th Congressional District in California. Thank you both.

Ro Khanna: Thanks for having us.

Marcy Kaptur: Thank you.

J.D. Durkin: Well, actually we're in the Congresswoman's office, so thank you for having us I should say.

Marcy Kaptur: Glad to have you here. And we are very honored that Ro is, uh, interested in our part of America and obviously we're interested in his part too.

J.D. Durkin: I think it's a fascinating dynamic. You're both Democrats, but a red state, a blue state, your state Congresswoman, voted for President Trump. Your state of course voted for Secretary Clinton. Uh, Congresswoman, let me start with you. You represent what I call, a lot of, uh, you have a lot of constituents from legacy industries, auto, steel, long history regarding business here in this country. As we have this conversation about the digital transformation, increased emphasis on technology and tech training, how do you ensure that a lot of the people in the state of Ohio, who work for these legacy industries aren't left behind?

Marcy Kaptur: Well, it's always a challenge in transformation. And I don't care whether you're talking about, uh, steel, or automotive, or refining, or of course we have many new industries like solar industries. Um, if you were actually to go in those plants, compared to when I was first elected, to go now they're teched up. And they need people who are able to move into the digital world. Uh, it is a completely different place than it was just three decades ago. And so the technologies are moving in, uh, but of course that requires changes. Some people are very hands on people, they like to make things, they like to grow things. And, um, the virtual world takes us to someplace else. And some people are not comfortable with that.

J.D. Durkin: Well, Congressman Khanna, uh, you've largely prioritized. Although you represent much of Silicon Valley there in the 17th District, it seems to me you've really prioritized visiting places like Appalachian, a lot of the heart of middle America. Um, how can Silicon Valley and and the constituency you represent best help support Americans and entrepreneurs and small business owners, in other parts of the country?

J.D. Durkin: First, let me say what an honor it is to be here with Marcy Kaptur. Who has been such a champion for manufacturing, uh, in our nation. And I think Marcy is absolutely right. Technology is influencing every industry. So it's not that you have to go work at Facebook or Google to be in technology. If you want to, uh, be an auto mechanic, in today's world, and you have to replace auto parts, a lot of companies have software embedded in those parts. And there's a shortage of auto mechanics, uh, who have that digital proficiency. So I think the challenge is not for Silicon Valley to sort of tell Ohio or Middle America what to do. They don't need us to be telling them. I think the challenge is for us to support local industries, to have leaders like Marcy and others who understand those communities and say, how do we get folks the digital proficiency that they can continue to be skilled in the auto industry, or the steel industry, or the industries that are there. And I think Marcy brought up a very interesting challenge. I mean, what what is the nature of work? How is that going to change? And how are we going to make sure people still feel pride in that work? And understand that they can do their work, but it's going to require some new digital skills as well.

J.D. Durkin: Uh, congresswoman from your perspective constituents in Ohio, are they open to learning a lot of these new skills. This was a, this was an issue that was heavily debated on the campaign trail. The degree to which, certain Americans may be open to learning new skills. Is that your experience?

Marcy Kaptur: Uh, they're open and they're interested. Uh, but let me give you an example, auto mechanics, are desperately needed. Airplane mechanics, all over this country. Uh, it used to be, that if you were a boy or girl there was a gas station at the corner, and the owner hired mechanics and you'd learn mechanics by being under the car and, you know, getting your hands dirty right there. Uh, what's happened with the digitisation of our world, is that now to repair a car, you need electronic equipment. One, one, um, part, may be tested by a computer that costs $500. And what happened over the last 20 years, is the average person cannot afford to have their own shop, and have all these different test pieces, these testing, uh, devices that are electronic. And so they have been kind of, forced to go into the automotive repair business, by working for one of the big companies. But it is a very different world in my opinion, where these mechanical skills are not broadly, uh, distributed. And so, it's a little bit harder for a young person who's interested in that to actually meet that challenge, as we need it right now. So there's a need for schools and companies to change in terms of training, uh, in order to allow for people who have those skills to early identify those skills. And then to allow those young people to move into those fields. So I have found it, a world that's transforming very fast, but one in which the individual has much more difficult, much more difficulty gaining footing.

J.D. Durkin: Um-hum. So a question here to to both of you. Congressman, I'll start with you. It seems to me based on a lot of your responses, a lot of these areas are contingent on their relationship between the United States and other countries. So the issue of trade specifically. Uh, how does that play a role in all this? Whether it's manufacturing, or or auto mechanics, how important is it that there are trade policies regard, between the United States and other countries, that are favorable to American workers?

Ro Khanna: That's very important. I mean, I think we have been, had a series of bad trade deals, uh, that have hurt American workers and American industry. Uh, we have had currency manipulation and other things, that have hurt industry. And so there's no doubt that we need to revise some of those trade deals or shouldn't have in some cases like NAFTA gotten into those trade deals. And I don't think that's a controversial opinion. I think the economists who have looked at that, have said that that really has hollowed out a lot of the industry and jobs in middle America. But the question is, where do we go, uh, from here? And I think one of the things and Marcy would know, more about this that, that upsets people is when you just hear Washington talk about, training, uh, or we're going to give you skills and people said well where are the jobs. I don't think people want to hear about training without a commitment to being hired and to a commitment to a job. And so the things that are worked as in communities where people say, okay, you're going to have an apprenticeship, or you're going to have this skill, but at the end of it, you're going to be employed. And here's an actual pathway. And it may not be a college degree that's necessary, and it may not be some fancy coding, it's going to be specific employable skills that lead to a job. And I think that second part is very, very important.

J.D. Durkin: Congresswoman, how important is trade to all this? This begs the question, trade was a heavy, heavily issue, a issue that was heavily prioritized by President Donald Trump. We all know the rhetoric, tear up those trade deals, they're terrible for the United States, they've put us at a competitive disadvantage. Is there anything that the president has said regarding trade that perhaps, uh, uh, makes sense to Democratic members of of the House?

Marcy Kaptur: Well, we're looking for what his initiatives are. He promised us that in the steel industry, we would have a decision by last June, uh, to allow, uh, our country to stop foreign dumping of steel. Particularly by countries like China Russia that diverts its steel through other markets into ours. And that decision hasn't come. We were promised there would be changes in NAFTA. Right now that decision hasn't come. Our region of the country was emptied out. So our people have been hit very hard in the industrial heartland. And the um, the recent election, with the election of President Trump partly reflected, the level of hurt. Yes, though, uh, I was talking with someone today about another state, where a major US company had been located that outsourced jobs to Mexico. And what has happened in that community, not in Ohio, but in an adjacent state is poverty has increased by 25 percent. They changed in their voting patterns from formerly Democratic, to now Republican, and they could switch to something else, but life hasn't gotten better in that particular location. It's gotten much worse.

Ro Khanna: And one of the things that's been disappointing, I think you could say the president, empathized and understood what was wrong in these communities. But when he got into power, and you look at the tax bill he passed, that's going to help the companies in my district. Apple is going to get forty, some billion dollars of tax cuts. And if you really believe that Silicon Valley needs more help, I mean Apple is doing fine, Google's doing fine. My view is, why didn't he spend that money on vocational education and creating jobs and infrastructure, which was going to actually help people in middle America. I mean he passed a tax bill ironically, that's going to help the corporations that already are doing really well. And didn't really, hasn't done anything so far to help the folks who he said, were falling behind.

J.D. Durkin: There's a great conversation. I wi- I truly wish I could do this all day. I have to leave it there. Thank you both very much for joining us. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and Congressman Ro Khanna. Thank you both very much.

Ro Khanna: Thank you.