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Business & Economy

Obama: CREE Leading Manufacturing Comeback

President Obama speaks at Cree Inc. in Durham
Brent Kitchen

President Barack Obama is searching for a real fix to the country’s jobs problem.  The White House is quick to say some two million private sector jobs have been created in the past 15 months.  But that’s hardly enough to put a dent in the country’s high unemployment rate.  So the president decided to visit a part of the country where he’s been before – a place that has steadily created jobs in the down economy. That place is Cree Incorporated in Durham.

When President Obama visited the Cree manufacturing facility yesterday – it was like visiting an old friend.   The president remembers his visit in 2008 when he was Senator Obama. 

President Obama:  "Somebody in the plant showed me a picture of the two of us together and I looked so much younger then. "

The president went on to say the energy efficient L-E-D lighting produced by Cree has doubled in efficiency since that 2008 visit.

President Obama:  "The small business that a group of NC-State engineering students founded almost 25-years ago, is a global company, it’s got 5,000 employees.  Next month your new production line will begin running 24-7 and soon you’ll add another 400,000 square feet of space on a new site next door.   So you’re helping to lead a clean energy revolution.  You’re helping lead the comeback of American manufacturing.” (applause)

Advanced manufacturing is all the talk these days. Mainly because it is one sector that is actually growing jobs – even in North Carolina where tens of thousands of traditional manufacturing jobs have been lost this millennium.

Sen. Kay Hagan: "And let me tell you, and let me be LED clear too, North Carolinians will compete with anyone, anywhere, anytime. We are a state on the move.” (applause)
Democratic U-S Senator Kay Hagan spoke at the Cree pep rally too.  In fact business, political and educational leaders from across the Triangle spent Monday morning selling the region and its innovation to the president’s Jobs and Competitiveness Council.

One of the tours was at American Underground in the American Tobacco Historic District in Durham.  A-O-L Co-founder Steve Case – who now chairs Start-Up America – stopped by the start-up offices of Jason Massey of Sustainable Industrial Solutions.

Steve Case:  "How did you decide to come to American Underground?"

Jason Massey:  "I lived in Silicon Valley for eight years doing venture capital work. My wife and I decided to move back home to North Carolina and honest to God, the American Tobacco Campus is the closest thing I’ve felt to that ecosystem."

Another dignitary on the tour was Austen Goolsbee – Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. He says the Triangle is a natural place to visit during times like these.

Austen Goolsbee:  "As folks around here know, even in the midst of what has been the toughest time period we’ve faced really in most of our lifetimes, the Research Triangle has come back more rapidly than the rest of the country and in some ways serves as a model for where we want to see the economy going out in the future around the country."

But how do you create more Crees?

Top executives say new tax policy that makes U-S manufacturing companies more competitive than their peers overseas; more American scientists and engineers; and more speed, like the new production line at Cree that’s about to start a 24 hour – seven day a week schedule. David Jones is running that division. He’s the Cree employee who took a picture with Mr.  Obama three years ago and again yesterday.  He’s worked at Cree for more than 10 years and sees how the company has developed.

David Jones:  "You can take those little chips and put them in phones and TVs.  But we’re now building taking those chips and putting them in huge fixtures, four foot, five foot, eight foot fixtures so you can put them in your building, your Walmart, your Home Depot, wherever you want to put them."

But competition from the Chinese is real for Cree and revenue is down.  Still Cree’s light shines bright – at least in the eyes of the White House which is counting on this model to help transform the economy.

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