Saudi delegation courting Silicon Valley companies

Saudi officials are bringing some of their vision for 2030 to America's Silicon Valley this week in hopes of attracting more economic power to rebuild a national economy under pressure.

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and other Saudi political leaders are stopping in San Francisco for summit talks with large tech companies. The Saudi delegation is pitching a program called Vision 2030 which includes a plan to overhaul the country's medical industry and promote research and development in Saudi Arabia.

Vision 2030 is a set of goals built by the Council of Ministers and implemented by the country's Council of Economic and Development Affairs. Through a specific governance model, Saudi leaders are working on the kinds of collaboration and initiatives that will build a stronger and more innovative Saudi Arabia, as promoted by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, on the project's website.

By going to Silicon Valley, bin Salman is hoping to get tech companies involved. 

“Silicon Valley is one of the most important investment sectors in the United States; top tech companies are headquartered there," a press release promoting bin Salman's trip said. "These companies contribute to a third of investment returns on new projects in the U.S. It is an investment magnet for joint projects that contribute high returns to the U.S. economy. It has more than 120 companies with an estimated value of $2.8 trillion. More than 50 companies are launched every month in the Silicon Valley.”

Jason Fink, professor and Wachovia Securities Faculty Fellow at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, said it’s a move that makes sense in theory.

“I do think they would benefit from investing in such firms because they are so different than the oil-production backbone of the Saudi economy.” Fink told the Gulf News Journal. “They provide excellent diversification benefits for the Saudis.”

Fink said, however, that Saudi involvement or imitation of Silicon Valley’s creative power could face some challenges.

“I don't think it likely that the Saudi economy will diversify significantly into the kinds of creative ventures we see in Silicon Valley.” Fink said. “Silicon Valley is a creative hub, and the Saudi culture, in my opinion, would have great difficulty attracting the kinds of creative people that work there. Look at the reaction of Silicon Valley firms to the anti-LGBT law in North Carolina. Saudi Arabia, by contrast doesn't allow women to open bank accounts without their husbands' permission.”

Noting the size of Silicon Valley's GDP as equivalent to the GDP of Ireland, Fink called the area an important driver of the U.S. economy and mentioned its unique contribution to American economic health.

“The best way to leverage high tech to benefit the economy as a whole is to continue to attract the world's brightest, most creative people.” Fink said. “To do so, we have to create the cultural environment to attract and retain those people. I still believe the United States is able to accomplish this better than any other nation on earth.”