President Barack Obama is aiming for energy manufacturing to be the future of the U.S. economy, with Raleigh, N.C. at the center of development.
Obama gave a 20-minute speech Wednesday to a crowd at the J.W. Isenhour Tennis Center at North Carolina State University, focusing mainly on ways to induce economic growth in the energy sector. He announced his plan to create the Next Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institute, a $140 million measure to be housed at N.C. State’s Centennial Campus and include academic, government and industry partners. The institute, Obama said, will work on developing new energy solutions using wide bandgap semiconductors.
“American workers will be able to come right here, to North Carolina, to learn the skills that companies are looking for,” Obama said. “The next generation of manufacturing will be an American revolution.”
He explained that wide bandgap semiconductor research can be used to create technology, such as cell phones and electric cars, in a less expensive and more electrically efficient way than normal semiconductors. The manufacturing hub, as Obama called it, will take steps to advance wide bandgap semiconductors from their current developmental state toward being useful for the industry and consumers.
Before his speech, Obama toured the Raleigh facility of Vacon, Inc., a manufacturer that designs AC drives for electric motors. He spoke of the company as an example of how companies developing more efficient energy sources will ultimately save customers money and have a positive environmental impact. In addition, such companies promote economic growth and assist with regaining jobs that were offshored during the 2009 recession, he said.
The Electronics Innovation Institute in Raleigh will not be the first of its kind, as another was launched over a year ago in Youngstown, Ohio. Two more manufacturing hubs will be proposed in the coming weeks, he said. Obama noted that bills attempting to legislate the creation of 45 hubs remain in progress in Congress, but for now the administration is taking executive steps independently to keep advancing the project until the bills pass.
The Department of Energy commissioned $70 million for the Raleigh project and was matched by another $70 million in non-federal cost sharing from 25 companies, universities and governmental organizations, according to a White House fact sheet. The funding will act as a five-year investment in the manufacturing hub.
“I’m here to act, to help make Raleigh-Durham-—and America—a magnet for the good, high-tech manufacturing jobs that a growing middle class requires and that are going to continue to keep this country on the cutting edge,” Obama said. “The pieces are all there to start bringing back more of the jobs that we’ve lost over the past decade.”
He specifically referenced N.C. State’s large undergraduate engineering program as a resource for companies such as Cisco and IBM looking for skilled engineers to hire, which—along with the technological resources and facilities of the Centennial Campus—makes the university an ideal place to form the new institute.
“We’re getting this honor to have this institution here,” said Kane Gooden, a sophomore engineering student at NCSU. “It’s great to know that we have all these new resources coming in and good companies coming in and it’s going to help grow the economy here.”
Obama was introduced by NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson, who emphasized the historicity of the university’s involvement in innovation preceding Obama’s personal announcement about the electronics institute.
“The tradition of educating the workforce for the future is sparking economic development,” Woodson said. “No one in the world knows this emerging technology better than N.C. State.”
Edye Morris-Bryant, principal of the Centennial Campus Magnet Middle School on NCSU’s campus, said she was inspired by the president’s speech and plan for the university to be involved in the new project.
“Being a leader of a middle school and having the influence over the future workers, I love that he said we don’t give up—we innovate, we adapt,” she said. “That’s what a teacher does every day.”
In addition to several hundred N.C. State community members and students, the audience included Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz, N.C. Governor Pat McCrory, Durham Mayor Bill Bell, Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane.