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Trump May Have Just Built His First Bridge to Silicon Valley

President-elect Donald Trump may just have done one thing right when it comes to pleasing Silicon Valley, a place where he hasn't had many friends.

Trump's decision to nominate Elaine Chao as transportation secretary was praised by Uber and Lyft, who expressed their excitement to work with Chao.

Image: Elaine Chao
Former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao arrives at Trump Tower on Nov. 21 in New York to meet with President-elect Donald Trump. Carolyn Kaster / AP

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"We have the utmost respect for Elaine Chao, an accomplished public servant and highly capable leader," Adrian Durbin, a Lyft spokesman, told NBC News. "We congratulate her on the nomination and look forward to working with her on an array of transportation issues."

Niki Christoff, head of federal affairs at Uber, said in an emailed statement that "Ms. Chao's knowledge of transportation issues is extensive, and we look forward to working closely with her."

Uber and Lyft are both private companies, but according to funding rounds earlier this year, both could be worth some serious cash. Uber had an implied valuation of $66 billion, while Lyft was reportedly valued at $5.5 billion after receiving a $500 million investment from General Motors in January.

Winning over Silicon Valley will be a tough battle for Trump, who during the election received $1 for every $60 that was donated to Hillary Clinton by people working in the tech sector. However, Chao may be a start when it comes to building that bridge.

Related: Elaine Chao's Cabinet Nomination Brings Pride to Some in U.S. and Overseas

Chao, who served as Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush and Deputy Secretary of Transportation under President George H.W. Bush, has been a staunch supporter of the so-called gig economy, where people don't have a traditional 9 to 5 job and instead work whenever they want.

In a speech last year at the American Action Forum, Chao called the "digitally enabled, peer-to-peer economy" an "important safety net for many families during difficult times."

"At a minimum, government policies must not stifle the innovation that has made this sector such an explosive driver of job growth and opportunity," she said.

"Elaine Chao is a conservative by nature, and that would suggest she might prefer to see the drivers treated as contractors rather than employees," Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus in UCLA's Department of Urban Planning, told NBC News.

Related: Uber Deal Shows Divide in Labor's Drive for Role in Gig Economy

"She has experienced some of these labor issues and that will affect the positions that she takes," he said.

If confirmed, Chao will be stepping into the role as the debate continues whether drivers for ride-hailing apps should remain independent contractors or classified as employees, entitling them to health insurance and vacation time.

Uber and Lyft have faced class action lawsuits from drivers over whether they've been misclassified and should be employees. Ongoing litigation against Uber in California and Massachusetts has been put on hold after a judge rejected a $100 million settlement Uber had agreed to, according to the class action lawsuit site.

Lyft settled a similar lawsuit with its California drivers earlier this year. As part of the agreement, drivers would remain independent contractors but would be able to collect tips and have the ability to challenge being terminated.

Ride-hailing apps are just one part of the "very large and complex" role Chao will be taking on as secretary of transportation, Wachs said.

As Secretary of Transportation, Chao will be instrumental in the formation of national transportation policies, covering everything from the fitness of U.S. airlines to bridges and structures on the nation's highways. That also means overseeing the advent of self-driving cars.

The Department of Transportation, under current secretary Anthony Foxx, already showed how its preparing for a future of self-driving cars by issuing a rule book about the sale and manufacture of autonomous vehicles.

"Each state has different laws and one of the challenges is for the federal government to coordinate these and provide an integrated system," Wachs said. "This is a rapidly changing area in which technology is developing and the role of research is absolutely incredible."

While they may make our lives easier by reducing accidents, President Trump will have to reconcile his desire to protect American jobs with a new self-driving future that could put millions of professional drivers out of work.

In September, Uber, which began offering some self-driving rides in Pittsburgh.

Lyft president and co-founder John Zimmer said he believes the majority of Lyft rides will be in self-driving cars by 2021. In 2025, he said he expects "owning a car will go the way of the DVD."

With that timeline, the next four years with Chao behind the wheel are set to be pivotal ones as the world of transportation continues its seismic, technologically driven shift.