Obama Pushes for More Cleantech, Green Jobs and Training

Obama Pushes for More Cleantech, Green Jobs and Training

Facing heavy criticism for a sluggish economic recovery, U.S. President Barack Obama brought his talk about the importance of growing more green jobs to a thriving LED factory in North Carolina Monday.

"Today, the single most serious economic problem we face is getting people back to work," Obama acknowledged in his address to employees, business leaders and others gathered yesterday afternoon at Cree Inc. in Durham.

But the president also took the opportunity to resound key tenets of his administration -- that clean energy, energy efficiency and the industries and innovations supporting them are key to the country's economic recovery. And he recapped progress that has occurred since he came to office.

Cree manufacturing facility in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park."We stabilized the economy," he said. "We prevented a financial meltdown. An economy that was shrinking is now growing.  We’ve added more than 2 million private sector jobs over the last 15 months alone ... But I’m still not satisfied. I will not be satisfied until everyone who wants a good job that offers some security has a good job that offers security."

Job growth and the economy are vulnerable points for Obama and his administration. The U.S. unemployment rate edged up to 9.1 percent in May from 9 percent in April, having been 8.8 percent in March. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the slight shift in May means that the unemployment picture was "essentially unchanged" compared to the prior month, the figures fueled further partisan acrimony. In fact, jobs were the subject of the first question in the televised debate last night among seven Republicans who are vying for the party's nomination in the 2012 presidential race. As expected, the presidential hopefuls slammed the incumbent on the issues of jobs and the economy.

While visiting Cree and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, Obama talked of what his administration has done to back education opportunities, training and other efforts to create jobs. He also convened his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness at Cree and pointed out the growth that the host firm has experienced in the past three years.

"This company has made amazing progress," said Obama, who first visited Cree during his primary campaign in May 2008. "The technology at this company is growing in leaps and bounds." In the past two years, the manufacturer of energy efficient lighting has filled almost 750 full-time positions, added a new lighting production line and broken ground for a new facility on its campus. The production line expansion project, which boosted capacity and capabilities, was bolstered by $39 million in cleantech manufacturing-related tax credits.

Cree and other businesses in the innovation hub of Research Triangle Park have a rich academic base to draw from for recruits with the University of North Carolina, Duke and North Carolina State University -- the alma mater of Cree's founders -- so nearby, Obama said. As a whole, however, the country is not producing enough talent to fill the high-tech and highly skilled jobs that are available today. "Right now, there are more than four job-seekers for every job opening in America," Obama said. "But when it comes to science and high-tech fields, the opposite is true. The businesses represented here tell me they’re having a hard time finding high-skilled workers to fill their job openings."

To that end, Obama said, commitments last week by the private sector, colleges and the National Association of Manufacturers will "make it possible for 500,000 community college students to earn industry-accepted credentials for manufacturing jobs that companies across America are looking to fill."

Also, the president and the jobs council unveiled an "all-hands-on-deck strategy" yesterday that he said will enable 10,000 new American engineers to be trained every year.

"By the way, our Jobs Council, led by Jeff Immelt, they’re doing this not counting on a whole bunch of federal funding," Obama said. "Private sector companies are teaming up to help us promote STEM (science technology, engineering and math) education, to offer students incentives to finish those degrees, and then to help universities fund those programs. They’re going to double their summer internship hiring."

Immelt, the chairman and CEO of General Electric and chairman of the President's Jobs and Competitiveness Council, and  Ken Chenault, the chairman and CEO of American Express Co., shared a byline on a op-ed piece Monday in the Wall Street Journal that outlines "fast-action steps" to spur job growth. They include:

  • Training workers for today's open jobs.
  • Streamlining permitting so construction and infrastructure projects can go forward.
  • Boosting jobs in travel and tourism.
  • Facilitating small-business loans.
  • Putting construction workers back to work.

The next step will be developing recommendations for a longer-term strategy, according to Immelt and Chenault, "America needs more growth," their op-ed said. "The economic decisions we make now will determine American job creation and competitiveness in the years to come. Government, business and labor need to work together to get this done."

The aim of the council, formed in January, is to help get the country's "job creation engine running faster," said Obama, and his administration's Better Buildings Initiative, announced in February, is intended to help the hard-hit construction industry while increasing the energy efficiency of the country's existing buildings.

A report released yesterday (pdf) by The Real Estate Roundtable, the U.S. Green Building Council and the Natural Resources Defense Council said the initiative could create more than 114,000 new jobs. Most would be in the construction industry and more than half -- 77,000 -- would result from a redesigned tax deduction for energy efficiency upgrades of buildings, the groups said. The organizations commissioned the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to conduct the analysis.

"The main thing I want to communicate to all of you here at Cree ... and all across the country is we’re going to get there," Obama said, expressing confidence about the future. "I know that because I’ve seen it here at this company, where you’re helping to lead the clean energy revolution. I’ve seen it across the Midwest ... I’ve seen it from coast to coast, where men and women are testing new ideas and starting new businesses and bringing new products to market and helping America come back stronger than before."

Image Credits -- 2008 photo CC licensed by Flickr user jurvetson. Inset image courtesy of Cree.