Tech Trade Groups Talk Merger

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Two large technology trade and lobbying groups, the Information Technology Association of America and AEA, are in merger talks with the goal of speaking in one voice in Washington, D.C., and around the world.

ITAA and AEA, formerly known as the American Electronics Association, announced Thursday that their boards were engaged in merger talks. ITAA has about 350 companies as members and AEA counts about 2,500 members, although there is some overlap in membership.

The goal is to create a tech trade group "unrivaled in size and clout," ITAA Chairman Hank Steininger, a managing partner at Grant Thornton, said in a statement.

The two groups' focuses complement each other, said Christopher Hansen, AEA's president and CEO. ITAA has largely focused on the federal government and overseas issues, while AEA has a strong emphasis on U.S. state issues, along with some federal government and international lobbying efforts.

Hansen, in his job for less than a year, began talking with Phil Bond, ITAA's president, who has pushed for consolidation of the Washington-area tech lobbying efforts since he took his job in August 2006.

"We realized that we could have a stronger organization," Hansen said.

The new organization would focus on several issues, including removing barriers to government contracts, improving cybersecurity, extending an expired research and development tax credit, increasing the number of U.S. students studying tech-related subjects and increasing immigration of tech workers into the U.S., Bond said.

One fairly new issue the combined group could focus on is the availability of qualified workers in rural areas in the U.S. as an alternative to outsourcing overseas, he added. The costs of sending work overseas are rising and the rural U.S. is becoming a competitive alternative, Bond said.

"We have to have some scale to tell that story," he said.

Critics of tech lobbying efforts in Washington often say the tech industry speaks with many voices when talking to lawmakers and regulators. In April, ITAA announced mergers with the Cyber Security Industry Alliance and the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association.

More mergers may be on the way, Bond said.

There remain several large tech lobbying groups and dozens of smaller ones around Washington. Among the major tech trade groups in the Washington area: the Consumer Electronics Association, the Information Technology Industry Council, the Computing Technology Industry Association, the Computer & Communications Industry Association and the Business Software Alliance.

"Chris and I have been in violent agreement about our view of the future," Bond said. "We believe our coming together could be a tipping point for more [mergers]."

The two groups still have several issues to work out before a merger could be final.

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