President Obama Highlights Importance of Photonics Industry During Visit to Cree Headquarters

June 13, 2011 by Jeff Shepard

President Barak Obama traveled to Durham, North Carolina to meet with his Jobs and Competitiveness Council at the corporate and U.S. manufacturing headquarters of Cree Inc.. While at Cree, the President toured the company’s LED lighting product assembly facility, met with the Jobs Council and delivered remarks to Cree employees, Jobs Council members, local business owners and representatives from nearby engineering colleges and universities. President Obama highlighted the importance of the photonics industry for job creation and future economic prosperity.

The Jobs Council is led by GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt and is composed of representatives from various sectors of the economy and leaders in diverse industries. The Jobs Council held their first meeting at the White House on February 24, 2011. Cree’s facility, located in the heart of North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park area, was selected to hold the second meeting.

Since Obama’s first trip to Cree in 2008, the LED industry has made giant strides to improve the efficiency of semiconductor-based lighting, with Cree at the forefront of that work. CEO Chuck Swoboda told Obama that Cree had doubled the efficiency of its emitters during that time.

"These are the jobs of the future," said President Obama, highlighting that companies such as Cree find it difficult to fill such positions because of the relative lack of technology and engineering graduates with the necessary skills. "These are the jobs that China and India are cranking out. They understand if they get those skills they can find a good job, they can create companies, they can create businesses, create wealth. And we’re falling behind in the very fields we know are going to be our future."

Cree was chosen for the visit because the company is said to exemplify the potential of American innovation, manufacturing and advanced technology. The company was founded in 1987 by a group of North Carolina State University engineering students and has grown to a 5,000 employee global company leading the world in the LED lighting revolution. Since January 2009 Cree has hired over 746 full-time positions in Durham including over 180 scientists and engineers. In the last year, Cree has built a new LED lighting production line at its facility in Durham. This facility occupies what was formerly the company’s corporate headquarters and offices. In addition, Cree has broken ground to accommodate future growth on a new site adjacent to the current buildings. Cree’s LED lighting has been installed in many federal buildings including the US Treasury, Navy Seal Team 6 headquarters and Camp Pendleton as part of the administration’s initiatives to encourage energy efficient buildings.

"At Cree, you’re putting people back to work in a field that has the potential to create an untold number of new jobs and new businesses – and that’s clean energy," concluded President Obama. "My administration has invested heavily in clean energy manufacturing, because I want to see the LEDs and solar panels and wind turbines and electric cars of tomorrow made right here in the US."

Cree has itself benefited significantly from the Obama administration’s support, receiving a $39 million tax credit as part of the Recovery Act.