After a conversation with a bevy of tech leaders today, US president-elect Donald Trump will pull aside two of the country’s most admired corporate titans, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, for a separate meeting, a spokesman for the presidential transition said.
The transition team also announced today that Musk would be added to the president’s “Strategic and Policy Forum,” a group of business leaders who will advise the White House on economic policy. Cook is not a member of the group.
Trump’s broader meeting with technology CEOs is expected to focus on jobs, as well as how the corporate tax code can be used as a carrot (or stick) to increase employment and investment in the US. Representatives of some of the largest and most powerful US multinationals will attempt to woo a president-elect with a skeptical view of globalization, while hoping that they, like other sectors, can cash in on his policy changes.
That makes the meeting with Cook and Musk all the more intriguing: The two have taken divergent approaches on US manufacturing, admittedly while working in vastly different sectors.
Apple’s strength is the international supply chain that churns out its best-selling electronic goods, a setup largely built by Cook when he was the company’s chief operating officer. Late Apple founder Steve Jobs famously told president Barack Obama that “those jobs aren’t coming back,” arguing that cost, specific manufacturing skills, and “flexibility”—a lack of labor rules—would keep them overseas.
By contrast, Musk’s current companies, Tesla and SpaceX, specialize in advanced manufacturing here in the US. Each employs thousands of technicians and engineers who make electric automobiles and rocket engines, respectively, out of California. To be sure, the two firms do avail themselves of some imported components, but the bulk of the jobs they create are in the US.
Tesla, which recently merged with Solar City, a solar power firm chaired by Musk, has also broken ground on a battery factory in Nevada that will employ 6,500 people by 2020. Musk’s vision of manufacturing in the US does, however, focus on the use of automation.
So far, Trump’s efforts to protect industrial jobs have focused mostly on subsidies—like the tax incentives delivered to Carrier to keep 800 factory jobs in the US, even as 1,300 moved to Mexico—or on alarming threats of new taxes on imported goods. Both Cook and Musk have spoken about parts of the US tax code that disadvantage them versus their global competitors.
But through their disparate approaches, Musk and Cook may give Trump a better grasp of what it will take to sustainably translate high-tech firms into real US employment, particularly when it comes to the benefits and costs of globalization, and the need for workers with 21st-century manufacturing skills.