19 September 2011

[Copy of] Recap of President Obama’s Cree visit

While standing with local media in a hallway at Cree Monday, I heard a familiar voice. It belonged to President Barack Obama, only it wasn’t coming from the TV or the radio. I looked around the corner, and there he stood – President Obama, shaking hands with Cree CEO Chuck Swoboda.

This wasn’t your ordinary day at the office.

Then the door I was standing beside flung open and the White House press pool ­­– about 15 reporters and photographers who flew in from D.C. to cover the president – rushed down the hallway to catch up with the president. I grabbed my video camera and scurried after them.

President Obama visited Cree Monday to tour one of our LED lighting manufacturing lines, meet with his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and to address Cree employees. Cree was honored to play host to the president and his Jobs and Competitiveness Council.

Here are some highlights from his visit:

The Factory Tour

After exchanging greetings in the hallway, President Obama joined Chuck for a tour of our new LED troffer manufacturing line. The press pool packed together behind a rope in three tiers: The photographers knelt, the TV cameramen stood behind them and the reporters hung out in back.


Cree CEO Chuck Swoboda (right) leads President Barack Obama on a tour of one of Cree's LED lighting manufacturing lines.

We were eager to show the president where we manufacture our new LED troffer lights, the CR Series. It’s been three years since Obama visited Cree while he was on the campaign trail, and since that time our LEDs have doubled in efficiency. So we had a lot to catch him up on. Chuck explained that these new LED lights are designed to replace the outdated fluorescent tubes that line the ceilings of many commercial buildings. In fact, LED lighting is the world’s most energy-efficient lighting!

You can watch some raw footage I shot of the Chuck leading the president through the factory here:

The president broke away from the tour to shake hands with employees. One of them was Josephine Lynch, who secured a job at Cree two months ago. News & Observer reporter Rob Christensen interviewed her and wrote:

“She said her years of unemployment had been a struggle that she managed only with the help of family. She went back to school to get electronics certification.”

After Obama told her to “keep up the good work,” Rob reported that she responded:

“Oooh, I’m going to be the coolest mom on my block.”

The Jobs Council

Once the tour was complete, Obama joined the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which was already seated in Cree’s café. Only the president probably had no idea that the meeting was in a cafeteria. All signs of the dining hall were removed. Blue curtains lined the walls, tables were covered with cloths and no one was gaining entry to that room unless the Secret Service said so.


I snapped this photo with my iPhone while photographers were allowed in the room.

It was the second meeting of the new Jobs Council, which the president created so he could receive non-partisan advice on ways to improve the economy, create jobs and keep the United States competitive. The Council committed to meeting outside of DC following its first meeting in February. Cree, located in the Research Triangle Park region of North Carolina, was selected to host the follow-up meeting.

The president briefly addressed the Council, giving photographers a chance to take photos and record footage. Then everyone with a camera was ushered out of the room. Reporters were allowed to stay to cover the meeting. During the meeting, the council outlined some recommendations designed to help spur economic growth and increase jobs in the short term and long term.

The Employee Meeting

When President Obama walked into Cree’s auditorium, employees rose and reached for their cameras. It seemed as if everyone in the room was holding a camera or cell phone, trying to preserve the day the president came to work.


Cree employees listen to remarks.

Then the president did something I don’t think anyone was expecting. He called out Cree employee David Jones by name, saying that he met David during a campaign stop at Cree in 2008. David reminded the president of the visit during Monday’s factory tour, when David pulled out a picture the pair had taken together in 2008. Obama joked that his hair wasn’t as gray in the picture.

“It’s true, I’ve got a lot more gray hair now than I did the last time I visited. But I have better plane, so it’s a fair trade,” Obama quipped, referring to Air Force One.

Then the president got serious, highlighting the recommendations he just received from the Jobs and Competitiveness Council. Those recommendations include increasing the number of engineering graduates in the U.S. by 10,000 per year and working with community and vocational schools to train workers. You can read more about the recommendations here.


President Obama addresses the audience at Cree.

Obama also touted his new Better Buildings Initiative, which aims to help business owners upgrade buildings for energy efficiency. It’s a move the president says could save America’s businesses up to $40 billion a year on their utility bills.

“And obviously that $40 billion could be better spent growing and hiring new workers. It will boost manufacturing of energy-efficient products like those made here at Cree. It will put contractors and construction workers back on the job. It is a win-win-win-win proposition.”

You can see a full transcript of the president’s remarks here.

The president also gave Cree props for the work it has done over the past 20+ years to advance technology and create jobs.

“Today the small business that a group of N.C. State engineering students founded almost 25 years ago is a global company. It’s got 5,000 employees. Next month, your new production line will begin running 24/7. And soon you’ll add another 400,000 square feet of space on a new site next door. So you’re helping to lead a clean energy revolution. You’re helping lead the comeback of American manufacturing. This is a company where the future will be won.”

Indeed, we believe in the future of an energy-efficient world. The LED Lighting Revolution is happening now. And we won’t be satisfied until every energy-wasting light is replaced.