President Barack Obama has concluded his trip to the Triangle Monday, where he toured the Cree facilities and spoke to employees about jobs and the economy.
Obama's trip began as Air Force One landed at Raleigh-Durham International Ariport shortly after 11 a.m. After he exited the plane, the President greeted Gov. Bev Perdue, Sen. Kay Hagan, Rep. David Price, Rep. Brad Miller, and Rep. G.K. Butterfield. Also in attendance were Durham Mayor Bill Bell, Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, and Morrisville Mayor Jackie Holcombe.
Obama made the trip to talk jobs and the economy with his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness at the LED lighting company.
"We know this is something we're going to have to work with everyone on, labor and business," Obama said as he sat with his jobs and competitiveness council, which met at the energy-efficient lighting plant in Durham.
Before meeting with his jobs council at Cree, Inc., Obama toured a portion of the plant where the LED lights are assembled.
One worker he met was Josephine Lynch, a 43-year-old mother of four who landed the job two months ago after two and a half years of unemployment. She was a substitute teacher in New Jersey before losing her job. She went back to school to get her electronic certification.
President Obama told an audience at Cree on Monday that America has all it needs to be successful in the 21st century, even despite the current economic turndown.
"We are people who dream big especially when times are tough," Obama said. "Together, there is nothing we can't do."
Obama praised Cree for leading a comeback in American manufacturing and urged the country to push hard to get the training it needs to be successful in a changing economy.
In particular, Obama said, the United States needs to train more engineers and people with technical expertise. He called for an "all hands on deck strategy" to train 10,000 new American engineers every year.
He said only 14 percent of American college students are majoring in science, technology, engineering and math, and many of those drop those majors before they finish school.
"These are the jobs of the future. These are the jobs that China and India are cranking out. … and we're falling behind in the very fields we know are going to be our future," he said.
The U.S., he said, has to make sure the work force is trained in those fields.
"We've got to make sure all our companies have a steady stream of good workers to choose from," he said.
Cree, he said, is a great example of how an innovative company with technical expertise can thrive in the new environment.
"Today the small business that a group of N.C. State engineering students founded almost 25 year ago is a global company. It's got 5,000 employees," he said. "You're helping to lead a clean energy revolution. You are helping to lead the comeback of American manufacturing."
There were some light moments for Obama, who visited Cree three years ago and remembered much about that visit.
"It's true that I have a lot more gray hair than the last time I visited," he said. "But I have a better plane."
And when he started to mention how the Triangle benefits from its universities, he mentioned the University of North Carolina first and N.C. State University second before pausing a moment and mentioning Duke University. But he caught himself and quipped to his assistant, former Duke basketball player Reggie Love, "Reggie, don't worry, I'm not forgetting Duke. Every time I come here, there's some ACC thing I've got to work through."
But the event overall had a serious undertone with unemployment remaining high, both in North Carolina and nationally.
Obama said the economy is growing, not shrinking, and that the private sector has been adding jobs.
However, he said, "I am not satisfied. I will not be satisfied until the empty storefronts in town are open for business again. I won't be satisfied until working families feel like they are progressing again. That's what drives me every day when I walk down to the Oval Office."
He praised his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which held meetings around the Triangle Monday morning before meeting with Obama at Cree. That council is intended to find the best ideas possible to spur the economy.
"They come from the business sector but also labor, universities," he said. "Most importantly they've come from outside Washington."
Obama said the push to train more engineers was an idea from the council. Another was to push clean energy, which he said meant the opportunity for more jobs in the U.S.
"I want to see the LEDs and solar panels and wind turbines and electric cars of tomorrow made right here in the US of A," he said.
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