Local Politics

Biden: Durham LED maker shows stimulus' success

Posted March 18, 2010 5:39 a.m. EDT
Updated March 18, 2010 7:01 p.m. EDT

— Vice President Joe Biden touted Durham-based Cree Inc. Thursday as an example of the Obama administration's efforts to expand clean-energy manufacturing jobs that pay middle-class salaries.

Biden and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu drew applause when they said they don't want more jobs to be exported, and they praised Cree (Nasdaq: CREE) for manufacturing light-emitting diodes in America.

"Cree is an American success story," Chu said. "I believe that making stuff is still part of making wealth."

"You all are doing what we only hoped for," Biden said. "The truth is we can't have a strong middle class without strong manufacturing."

Biden talked about how receiving $39 million in tax credits from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in January allowed Cree to purchase new equipment and expand its work force. Cree has hired about 375 engineers, office staffers and production workers since last summer as demand took off. The company has about 1,500 workers in Durham, out of a worldwide staff of 3,200.

The stimulus package also created demand for Cree's LEDs, as cities got federal funding to install the lights.

When Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, Cree stock sold at $18.76 a share, then rose to $19.99 when he signed the stimulus bill. It has since soared to about $71.

Cree received at least $8.5 million in federal research funds in the past decade as government optimism about energy-efficient lighting started building early in President George W. Bush's administration.

Biden pushed for Congress to put $5 billion toward expanding the recent tax credit from which Cree benefited.

"Cree did this," Biden said. "Through the Recovery Act, we're encouraging companies like Cree to keep investing in clean energy."

Cree's high-efficiency LEDs are a "more environmentally efficient way to light our world," he said. LEDs use a fraction of the power of fluorescent tubes, don’t contain mercury like twisty compact fluorescent lights and don’t produce the heat that speeds spoilage in meat or produce grocery displays.

America needs to create a more stable, environmentally friendly economy, and companies such as Cree are leading the way, Biden said

"The world's moving into the 21st century in a more carbon-free economy. We are either going to be dragged there, or we are going to lead the way there," the vice president said. "With companies like Cree, we're going to lead the world."

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton said that North Carolina is already leading the way with incentives and cash grants to green companies.

"It's already part of our economy, but can we do more? Do we need to do more? Yes, we can," Dalton said.

Biden's visit is proof that the state is headed in the right direction, Cree CEO Chuck Swoboda said.

"It shows that North Carolina is part of this really new innovation economy," he said.