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President Obama Announces Technology Hub At N.C. State

President Obama speaking at NC State 1/15, 2014
Jessica Jones @Jessica_WUNC

President Obama was in North Carolina yesterday to announce the creation of a $140 million technology hub at NC State University.

The announcement is part of a larger effort by the White House to foster the kind of high-tech collaboration that will encourage industry and generate jobs.

At NC State’s indoor tennis center, the mood was joyful yesterday. As the school’s pep band played, about two thousand people filed into the space that had been transformed into a mega-church-like venue. When President Obama arrived, the applause was deafening.

He started his speech by thanking local politicians and mentioning college basketball, but then quickly launched into the news the audience was waiting for:

I'm pleased to announced America’s newest high-tech manufacturing hub, which is going to be focused on the next generation of power electronics, is going to be based right here in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The agreement means that universities including NC State and high-tech companies will work together to create innovative products. The U.S. Energy Department will contribute $70 million over five years. The other collaborators, along with the state, will also contribute $70 million. The president said NC State was chosen as the site for this hub after a year of competition:

What we're calling the next generation power electronics innovation institute is bringing together leading companies, universities, and federal research all together under one roof," said Obama. "Folks at this hub are going to develop what’re called wide band gap semiconductors.

Those semiconductors would be more energy-efficient than current ones, made with silicon chips. The White House plans to announce two more similar hubs soon, based on digital manufacturing and metals innovation. It’s part of a larger effort by the current administration to create more high-tech jobs and encourage American manufacturing.

The president has asked Congress to fund up to 45 similar consortiums across the country:

We have always been about research, innovation, and then commercializing that research and innovation so that everybody can benefit. And then we start selling our stuff all around the world. We start exporting it and we create good jobs. And middle-class families then are able to buy the products that result from this innovation.

(Full text of the speech here.)

After his speech, the president inched his way along the edge of a gated area, as supporters reached out to shake his hand and snap pictures.

Technology, Jobs And The Middle Class

Steven Greene, a professor of political science, said the new technology consortium is big news for the university. But he noticed the underlying theme of the speech was about the middle class:

What actually struck me about it was this pervasive theme of social mobility, giving people an entry into the middle class, so (it was) really playing into these ongoing themes we’ve had of inequality and creating a real equality of opportunity and social mobility.

Greene says the President and Democrats are clearly pushing the idea of how important it is for people to be able to move up in the world.

And that’s an important theme in North Carolina, says Laura Edwards of Chapel Hill. She was sitting in a section reserved for Democratic donors and supporters:

What is extra special about it is that the president made the announcement today in the midst of a time in our history of North Carolina where we need to shift from that textile furniture making economy over to this research and development and innovation, and it’s exceptional that it happened today, and for NC State.

Democrats aren’t the only ones who are applauding the new multi-million dollar consortium. Republican Governor Pat McCrory attended the president’s speech. In a statement released yesterday, he said he supports the initiative because it will help the state economically.

Jessica Jones talks with WUNC's Catherine Brand about President Obama's announcement of a new tech hub at NC State.

Jessica Jones covers both the legislature in Raleigh and politics across the state. Before her current assignment, Jessica was given the responsibility to open up WUNC's first Greensboro Bureau at the Triad Stage in 2009. She's a seasoned public radio reporter who's covered everything from education to immigration, and she's a regular contributor to NPR's news programs. Jessica started her career in journalism in Egypt, where she freelanced for international print and radio outlets. After stints in Washington, D.C. with Voice of America and NPR, Jessica joined the staff of WUNC in 1999. She is a graduate of Yale University.
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