By Salvador Rodriguez
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp has teamed up with the National Football League's Green Bay Packers in a $10 million partnership intended to spur tech innovation in Wisconsin, the software company said on Thursday.
The partnership is part of a trend by tech companies to connect with the U.S. Midwest following last November's surprise election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. Trump was carried largely by rural states that embraced his criticisms of globalization and admonishments of Silicon Valley for what he described as an overreliance on immigrant workers.
For Microsoft, the outreach efforts serve as a way to connect with folks across the United States, said Brad Smith, the tech company's chief legal officer.
“We are probably not going to find the technology breakthrough for the future of farming in downtown San Francisco," Smith told Reuters. "We’re much more likely to find it in Green Bay, Wisconsin.”
Through the partnership, known as TitletownTech, the Packers and Microsoft will each contribute $5 million to invest in startups from around Wisconsin. This is part of a larger initiative by Microsoft called TechSpark to form similar partnerships in North Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
Microsoft in July also committed itself to use television broadcast spectrum to bring broadband internet to 2 million rural Americans within five years.
“For communities like ours in the manufacturing belt, this is going to get us to where we need to be in order to be competitive well into the future,” Ed Policy, Green Bay Packers general counsel, said in an interview on Wednesday.
TechSpark is a long-term strategy Microsoft hopes will yield new customers, new employees and benefit more Americans, Smith said.
The origins of what became TechSpark occurred the day after Trump's Nov. 8 election win, when Smith wrote a blog post saying Microsoft needed to “promote inclusive economic growth that helps everyone move forward."
Microsoft is not alone in its outreach efforts to the American heartland.
So far in 2017, Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has traveled to U.S. states he had not previously visited. Similarly, Apple Inc CEO Tim Cook in April spoke to his alma mater Auburn University in Alabama, and the iPhone maker has said it will invest $1.3 billion in Des Moines, Iowa, to build a new data center and an additional $1 billion to expand its data center in Reno, Nevada.
Apple in May also announced a $1 billion fund for U.S. manufacturing programs. Meanwhile, Amazon.com Inc in September announced plans to open a second headquarters away from Seattle, promising to bring $5 billion in investments to the chosen community.
"The 2016 presidential election was a wake-up call for many Americans, especially those in the 'bubble' of coastal cities,” said Jessica Alter, co-founder of Tech for Campaigns, a nonprofit formed to promote tech worker participation in progressive and moderate political campaigns in local U.S. elections.
“For big companies like Microsoft and Facebook that means connecting with people outside of their headquarter cities,” Alter said on Wednesday.
TechSpark comes as more regulators and lawmakers around the globe turn a sharper eye toward Silicon Valley and question the way companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Google are regulated.
“We have a responsibility to be reaching out to every part of the country," Smith said.
(Reporting by Salvador Rodriguez; Editing by Matthew Lewis)