A view of San Jose with houses in the foreground and City Hall in the background
Two major Bay Area business groups are considering joining forces to boost their influence. Photo by Joseph Geha.

Two major business advocacy organizations representing hundreds of the region’s biggest companies are considering joining forces to expand their influence in critical policy areas, including artificial intelligence and housing.

Leaders of San Francisco-based Bay Area Council and San Jose-based Silicon Valley Leadership Group are formally exploring a partnership “to create the nation’s most influential business association representing the world’s most dynamic economic region,” the two groups announced Tuesday.

“It’s really to create a more powerful presence for the voice of business, the economy and major employers in the region,” Jim Wunderman, CEO of Bay Area Council, told San José Spotlight. “Each organization is very good. We each have, to some degree, the attention of political leadership and the community, but it’s not enough, we need more. We need a center seat at the table.”

Wunderman declined to put a timeline on how soon the two groups could finalize a merger, but noted there is excitement in the organization about the vision, and said he’d like to see it happen as quickly as possible.

The member lists of the two organizations share many companies, including major power players like Google, Apple, Meta, Amazon, Tesla, Microsoft, Gilead, Kaiser and PG&E, as well as many of the region’s universities.

Ahmad Thomas, CEO of Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said creating a new unified business group from these two existing organizations would be a win-win.

“This is a pivotal moment for our region — one that holds the potential to unleash a new wave of innovation, investment and inclusive economic growth across the Bay Area and Silicon Valley,” Thomas said in a statement.

The two groups have historically helped shape policy around issues including economic development, infrastructure, housing, education and health care.

Wunderman acknowledged the rapid growth in artificial intelligence spaces will be a key issue for the region’s tech companies going forward and for the potential new business association.

“I think AI is really important, I think it’s one of the things that motivates us to get our game together here, for sure,” Wunderman said. “I think it behooves us to be huge proponents of it and at the same time approach it with great care and responsibility. There has to be some balance in how a group like this would approach it, because we’re not going to be convincing as cheerleaders anyway.”

He also said the organization would need to continue advocating for policies aimed at helping residents and repairing the region’s reputation, such as legislation to address the housing affordability crisis, homelessness and the future of transportation.

Walter Wilson, a Black developer and the co-founder of the San Jose-based Minority Business Consortium, said the merger has the potential to be a major shot in the arm for Bay Area business.

But he noted that the two organizations have typically focused on the needs of the biggest businesses, and to be successful in their potential merger, they must ensure minority and women-owned business groups have a seat at the table.

“If it’s not inclusive, then it could turn out to be a death knell for small, women and minority-owned businesses,” Wilson told San José Spotlight. “They should say ‘Hey listen, we’re going to merge together, but we’re going to pull in the groups like the independent Minority Business Consortium, to make sure we improve things for everyone and actually open up more doors.’”

Wilson noted that when business is going well in America, minority-owned and small businesses have a greater opportunity to succeed, and diversity can improve. But when downturns hit, those businesses are often the ones struggling to survive.

“When business is bad, when they start doing layoffs and all these things, Black people are usually the first people to be impacted by it. Generally we are the last ones to be hired,” Wilson said.

Wunderman said he thinks no one will be left behind if the merger goes through, and that the new group would keep working on representing the entire working population of the Bay Area.

“We’re thinking about equity, we’re thinking about how do you restore a viable middle class that’s been hollowed out?” Wunderman said. “What are the things we need to do in the future to continue the leadership in technology, to continue leadership in the environment? To continue doing the things that made this region incredible in the first place.”

Editor’s note: Ahmad Thomas is a member of the San José Spotlight board of directors. 

Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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