Obama turns to NC State to build better semiconductor
Posted January 15, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina State University will lead a group of six universities and 18 private-sector companies in a new manufacturing innovation institute, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday during a visit to the Triangle.
The Next Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institute will help companies and universities invest in manufacturing technology and develop cutting-edge electronics to boost efficiencies and spur hiring. It's the second such manufacturing innovation hub that Obama called for in his State of the Union address last year.
"I don't want the next big job-creating discovery and research and technology to be in Germany or China or Japan. I want it to be right here in the United States of America. I want it to be right here in North Carolina," Obama told a crowd of about 2,000 people packed into the J.W. Isenhour Tennis Center on N.C. State's campus.
N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson said the university is honored to lead the consortium, which also includes the University of North Carolina system, Arizona State University, Florida State University, the University of California at Santa Barbara and Virginia Tech. Companies such as Durham-based Cree, Delta Products, John Deere, Toshiba and Vacon, which Obama visited in Research Triangle Park before heading to N.C. State, also are part of the effort.
"It embodies what this great university stands for – our think and do mentality," Woodson said. "No one in the world knows this emerging technology better than N.C. State."
One specific technology that members of the institute will develop is wide-bandgap semiconductors, which can make power electronic devices for personal devices, electric vehicles and industrial-scale drive motors more efficient. Wide bandgap semiconductors can operate at higher temperatures and are more durable than silicon semiconductors.
The group of businesses and universities will receive $70 million from the Department of Energy in the next five years, an amount that will be matched through a combination of funds from the businesses and schools involved, along with at least $10 million from the state of North Carolina.
"I think N.C. State has a good reputation for engineering to begin with, and Obama coming here will just increase our reputation and create a lot of jobs in the area," freshman Sean Pruszkowski said.
"To have something so major to the country right here in the Triangle area is a great opportunity for future engineers and those in the field," graduate student Nehemiah Mabry said.
"I think it's a big growth opportunity, not just for N.C. State but for Raleigh in general and for the whole state, bringing jobs to the area and helping our community," said Mary Lucas, an employee at Cary-based software developer SAS Institute who attended Obama's announcement.
Obama called manufacturing a bright spot in the sputtering U.S. economy, noting 80,000 jobs have been added in the sector in the last five months.
"We want to build on the kind of work being done at places like N.C. State to develop technologies that lead to new jobs and entire new industries," he said.
The president's visit comes as North Carolina's Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is also emphasizing the manufacturing jobs potential in a state in which about a fifth of the economy comes from making things.
"All of us agree, Republicans and Democrats, that we've got to grow manufacturing jobs, and manufacturing is coming back to North Carolina," said McCrory, who greeted Obama as Air Force Once landed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
McCrory called the electronics innovation institute "a good pilot program" and said he was pleased N.C. State was picked to lead the effort.
North Carolina Republicans criticized Obama's failure to fix the economy after the government reported just 74,000 new jobs nationwide in December and a dip in unemployment fueled by people giving up their search for work. They credit GOP state lawmakers and McCrory for decisions that led to a 2 percentage-point drop in the state's unemployment rate in 2013. The national jobless rate dropped last year by less than 1 percent.
While North Carolina's November unemployment rate dropped to its lowest rate in more than five years, the data suggest similar worker discouragement. The total number of working-age residents either working or looking for jobs fell by 95,000 in the past year.
Republican 2nd District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers said she was "dismayed" by Obama's speech at N.C. State, saying he was trying to take credit for the improved economy in North Carolina.
"We are living in an Obama economy. This is five years we are coming out of a recession," Ellmers said. "He cannot take this (new initiative at N.C. State) and mask the real problems that are happening to North Carolina families."
The North Carolina Federation of College Republicans and Americans for Prosperity echoed a similar message during a demonstrated on campus against the president's visit.
"Our goal is to educate our peers about the consequences of President Obama's economic policies and show them that there are better options for young people," said Ross Bradley, N.C. State chapter president for Young Americans for Liberty, which was part of the protest. "Students should not be taking advice from a man who has added $2 trillion to the national debt since his last visit to our campus just two years ago."
Obama reiterated what has become a rallying cry in recent weeks, telling the crowd at N.C. State that 2014 could be "a year of action" for the economy. Job growth continues, domestic energy production is growing, health care costs have been reduced and federal deficits have been cut.
"The pieces are all there to start bringing back more of the jobs that we've lost over the past decade," he said.
Still, he said, Congress needs to do its part by extending unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work for months.
"Folks are not looking for a handout; they're not looking for special treatment," he said. "The job market is still tough in pockets around the country, and people need support."