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When House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi appeared at the Portland offices of startup Urban Airship with Oregon representatives Rep. Suzanne Bonamic and Rep. Earl Blumenauer on Tuesday, Portland startup leaders expressed concern over U.S. policies like science program spending limits and strict immigration policies that contribute to stalling innovation in America.

Pelosi’s visit was part of a larger forum that included two-dozen local leaders across all sectors of the Portland metro technology industry. The forum was intended to address barriers that the Democratic Party are facing in Congress as they try to jumpstart the American economy. Startups and high tech are heralded as the industry that can reignite America’s competitiveness on a global economic scale. Event organizers asked Portland startup leaders for help and solidarity in supporting policies that will accelerate the growth of technology companies.

CEO and founder of Portland-based startup Cloudability Mat Ellis expressed concern about America’s immigration policies that make it difficult for American educated technologists to stay in the country and work at startups after they graduate. Ellis noted that his company has 11 open positions that would be easier to fill if he could hire the most qualified employees, which happen to be highly educated non-citizens.

Pelosi has long been a proponent of flexible immigration policies. In 2001, she voted to extend the time that immigrants can pursue legal residency by four months. She also voted in 1998 to pass a bill to increase the number of temporary visas granted to highly skilled workers from 65,000 to 115,000 by the year 2000.

Panelists noted that the divided political climate makes it especially hard to push through legislation that would support innovation like flexible immigration policies. Pelosi asked for Portland’s startup leaders to support bipartisan initiatives that would benefit innovation in America. “Know your power in all of this. Because you have the experience, it’s very valuable,” she noted.

Oregon’s startup community is poised to become a growing economic powerhouse in the coming years, even though high tech high growth startup jobs still only account for less than one percent of total jobs in the state. Because the Portland metro area is overwhelmingly liberal, it’s no surprise that the Democratic Party is calling on startup business leaders in Oregon to align with their economic initiatives.

Image courtesy of OregonLive.

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