SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Hillary Rodham Clinton wooed Silicon Valley campaign donors and voters Thursday with a plan to create more high-paying jobs and maintain U.S. dominance in technology.
The New York senator and Democratic presidential hopeful said she's trying to increase the number of so-called H1B visas aimed at highly educated workers. Silicon Valley companies use H1Bs to sponsor thousands of software engineers from Russia, India, China and other countries, but many must return home when their temporary work permits expire.
"If you think you have a skills shortage now, project it out a decade and we're going to be in real trouble," Clinton said to applause from more than 200 executives attending a half-day CEO Summit by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. "We need to guide immigration reform to attract and retain foreign-born students who want to work in the United States."
If elected, Clinton said, her administration would provide financial support to schools that encourage girls and minorities to study "STEM" subjects: science, technology, engineering and math.
Clinton's plan would:
— Increase federal research and development budgets 50 percent over the next 10 years at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science and the Defense Department. She would triple the number of NSF fellowships and create an award structure to encourage working engineers and scientists to teach classes and mentor students in public schools.
— Establish a $50 billion "Strategic Energy Fund" that would create a research agency focused on reducing the threat of global warming. The R&D windfall and energy agency would be funded in part from closing tax loopholes and ending subsidies to oil companies, she said.
— Provide tax incentives to increase the number of U.S. homes with broadband Internet connections.
The senator — who spent the morning raising money at a private fundraiser — largely avoided the subject of the Iraq war. Her support of the war was expected to draw protesters at another private fundraiser Thursday evening.
Executives attending Clinton's speech said she hit the right tone with Silicon Valley power brokers. Executives in the nation's technology hub — where 53 percent of all engineers are foreign-born — worry many workers will return to India, China and other countries developing tech sectors.
"We are clearly on common ground," Adobe Systems Inc. CEO Bruce Chizen said.
Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said the organization doesn't endorse candidates and invited all presidential hopefuls to address members. Republican candidate John McCain spoke to an SVLG forum several weeks ago.