Bringing The World Home To You

© 2024 WUNC North Carolina Public Radio
120 Friday Center Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
919.445.9150 | 800.962.9862
91.5 Chapel Hill 88.9 Manteo 90.9 Rocky Mount 91.1 Welcome 91.9 Fayetteville 90.5 Buxton 94.1 Lumberton 99.9 Southern Pines 89.9 Chadbourn
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Biden wants companies like NC-based Wolfspeed to be a new wave of American manufacturing

President Joe Biden speaks at Wolfspeed in Durham, NC on his first stop of the Investing In America tour.
Matt Ramey
President Joe Biden speaks at Wolfspeed in Durham, NC on his first stop of the Investing In America tour.

A new semiconductor manufacturing plant in Siler City is expected to create 1,800 new jobs. That news was large enough to bring the president to North Carolina, in the administration's third visit to the Triangle since September 2022.

President Joe Biden toured a North Carolina chip manufacturer Tuesday to promote his economic agenda. The president said the Durham-based company Wolfspeed could help revitalize American manufacturing.

North Carolinians used to know Wolfspeed by another name. CREE started making LED lights here in the 1980s. But 30 years later, so was everyone else.

“Once it became a commodity, the margins drop, what do you do?” said Wolfspeed co-founder John Edmond before the president's remarks Tuesday.

The company sold off its LED lighting business and changed its name in 2021. Now, it makes semiconductors, but with the same compound it used to make light bulbs: silicon carbide.

“Think about your air handlers. Think about your air conditioner outside. Think about a pool pump. Think about anything that has a motor," Edmond said. "If you have an electric motor in your house, you are going to benefit probably 10% efficiency by going to silicon carbide.”

That makes these chips attractive to companies that make those motors, like the ones found in electric vehicles.

Wolfspeed plans to build a $5 billion semiconductor manufacturing plant in Siler City with an estimated 1,800 jobs. In nearby Moncure — also in Chatham County — the Vietnamese automaker VinFast plans to start making electric cars in 2025.

Durham native and Duke business professor Ronnie Chatterji is helping the White House implement the CHIPS Act, a new federal law that invests about $280 billion to research and manufacture semiconductors.

“When you think about the chips that Wolfspeed makes, they’re going to go into electric vehicles that we make in North Carolina as well. And they’re going to have batteries that we also make in North Carolina," Chatterji said.

It is that kind of local supply chain continuity that the president was in Durham to promote. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Biden reminded the crowd at Wolfspeed that the sudden shortage of semiconductors was a shock to the auto industry.

“They started to shut down the lines. Fewer cars were made. Workers on the shop floor were laid off. Prices went up because the cars were in short supply. Now, we’re turning things around in a big way," Biden said.

Wolfspeed co-founder John Edmond says he thinks improved battery capacity will keep fueling the demand for EVs, which in turn increases the demand for semiconductors.

“That was really what pulled the market forward, and now we’ve got a growth period that’s going to be pretty unprecedented," he said.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
More Stories