penny-pritzkerToday on Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest tour, US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said something that would make any Silicon Valley entrepreneur’s eyes roll: “We like to think we’re the department of innovation!”

Yeap, you and every other giant, bureaucratic organization. If I had a quarter every time some corporate representative told me, “We’re just like a big, 100-year-old startup,” I’d no longer have to work at my actual startup job.

She went on to plead with the entrepreneurs listening to communicate their needs and challenges to the Department of Commerce. “You are our customer. We’re a service organization,” Pritzker says. “What I need to know from you is how can I help?”

Here’s one: Immigration reform. It’s the single biggest wish list item for much of the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and the tech world at large. So much so that Mark Zuckerberg got a college buddy to go to Washington with north of $50 million dollars in tech money to fix it.

Sitting around the bus’ big formica table, surrounded by Rise of the Rest paraphernalia, Pritzker, senior advisor Joshua Mandell, and Steve Case got into it. “It’s a real shame where we are with immigration,” Mandell says. “Which is nowhere.”

Pritzker told the story of how Microsoft recently opened a new branch in Vancouver. The company told her the only reason they fled up to Canada is because they couldn’t recruit enough technical talent in the States.

She gets how urgent the immigration issue is to the Valley — if we don’t start opening up our borders to allow talented people to move here, then they’re going to build companies elsewhere. Unfortunately, the clock is ticking and the competition in the entrepreneurial space is fierce.

Steve Case pointed out that if Congress doesn’t pass immigration reform in the next year, it’s going to be pushed off the agenda for a long time. After all, come late 2015 the nation will be caught up with election fever.

As Case put it during his fireside chat with Pritzker, “We’re not going to win this global battle for entrepreneurship unless we win this global battle for talent.”

[image via wikimedia]