RALEIGH: Obama announces NC State will host innovative hub - WNCN: News, Weather

Obama announces NC State will host innovative hub

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

President Barack Obama returned to the Triangle Wednesday on a quick, but pointed, trip that highlighted the fusion of manufacturing and technology and included a major role for N.C. State University and the region.

Appearing before a cheering crowd at the Wolfpack's J.W. Isenhour Tennis Center, Obama outlined a new technology hub, based at NCSU, that would partner businesses with the school.

Obama is pushing Congress for funding for as many as 45 hubs, but the first three will be funded by existing resources, the White House said.

The NCSU hub, to be called the Next Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institute, will receive $70 million over five years from the U.S. Energy Department and at least $70 million more from the universities, businesses and the state, the White House said.

The $70 million grant is the largest in N.C. State's history. The new institute will include two dozen academic, government and industry partners, NCSU said.

The hub will be on State's Centennial Campus but there is no time frame for when it will open. Terri Lomax, the school's vice chancellor for research, innovation and economic development, will spearhead the project in the initial stages.

The NCSU will hub will focus on wide bandgap technology, something even Obama struggled to explain.

Wide bandgap semiconductor technology explained

"I'm not sure that I'm fully qualified to describe the technical elements of this. Raise your hand if you know what it is," Obama said.

When some in the crowd of engineers raised their hand, Obama chuckled and said, "Say, we've got some."

Semiconductors are at the heart of technologies like smart phones and televisions. The idea behind the push is that wide bandgap technologies will be the next step in the evolution of power electronics.

Silicon chips are now essential to power electronics, but the wide bandgap semiconductors are more powerful, smaller, more efficient and, potentially, could be cheaper.

Now, the wide bandgap semiconductors are more expensive, but the concept is the integration of business and academic resources could find ways to funnel cheaper products to market.

N.C. State chancellor Randy Woodson said the institute will be at the center of a "game-changing industry" with the potential to create high-paying jobs and change how the nation consumes energy.

Live blog: Obama visits Triangle, N.C. State

The wide bandgap semiconductors hub will "make it easier," Obama said, for the advances to go from development to the market.

"We have always been about research, innovation and commercializing that innovation so that everyone can benefit," Obama said. "You get a virtuous cycle were everybody is doing better. And that's what we can do if we pull together."Obama at NCSU

Obama cast the move as a continuation of the American recovery from a nasty recession that still has North Carolina's unemployment levels at uncomfortable highs.

"We've already got some success to build on," Obama said. "Manufacturing is a bright spot in this economy."

He said the United States had created 540,000 manufacturing jobs in the last four years.

"We want to keep that train going," he said. "We have to build on the work that is being done at places like N.C. State."

The announcement continued the ascendancy of N.C. State and the Triangle as one of the nation's most robust centers for emerging technologies. N.C. State's vast Centennial Campus has transformed the school with its integration of academia and industry.

The announcement was another boost for N.C. State, which had a record 21,000 applications for the first-year class of 4,216 that entered in the fall of 2013.

The trip had the usual majesty of a presidential visit, with the familiar blue-and-and-white Air Force One gracefully gliding into RDU, the  motorcade causing the closure of Triangle freeways, and "Hail to the Chief" greeting Obama at N.C. State.

The trip also had intense, and subtle, political overtones.

Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, greeted him warmly at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and McCrory earnestly engaged Obama in a discussion that lasted about a minute.

McCrory said he had questions about energy policy and Obama agreed to have Energy Secretary Ernitz Moniz meet with McCrory and the governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, when the governors have a scheduled visit to Washington in February.

McCrory said he had a chance to speak with Moniz for a moment adn said there was a chance for "some movement" on offshore drilling.

McCrory has argued that the United States is too dependent on foreign countries for energy resources, and he wants to develop more options at home. That includes support for fracking and offshore drilling, options that have drawn concern from environmentalists.McCrory

McCrory said he also spoke with Obama about food stamps, Medicaid and unemployment.

Congressman Mike McIntyre, a Democrat who is not running for re-election, made the flight with Obama, and the president was met at the airport by the mayors of Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Morrisville.

Missing, however, was Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat who remained in Washington. Republicans held a news conference Wednesday morning to say Hagan, who is up for re-election, did not want to be seen with the president.

Hagan's campaign communications director, however, contested the freshman senator stayed in Washington to do "the job she was elected to do in the Senate."

"This is just another political attack from a shadowy outside group that has no accountability to North Carolinians," spokewoman Sadie Weiner said. "Just like she's always been, Kay is focused on doing her job today, which includes cleaning up the unemployment insurance mess Thom Tillis created in Raleigh, voting on a bill to avoid a government shutdown, and attending an Armed Services Committee briefing on Iraq and Syria."

Obama, speaking from the podium at N.C. State, said, "Your senator, Kay Hagan, could not be here but I wanted to thank her publicly for the great work she is doing."

Before speaking at N.C. State, Obama also visited the Research Triangle Park home of Vacon, a company based in Finland that has a research site in RTP.

The speech lasted less than half an hour.  Obama concluded by saying, "Congratulations North Carolina State, congratulations Raleigh, and let's get to work."

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