Obama welcomes Cree CEO

Staff WriterJuly 3, 2009 

Chuck Swoboda, chief executive of LED lighting company Cree, visited the White House on Thursday afternoon and shared his company's success story with President Barack Obama.

"I was able to describe how the innovative things we are doing with LED lighting are helping us build a very successful business even in what is otherwise not necessarily the best economic conditions," Swoboda said in a phone interview after he met with the president.

Swoboda also said he told Obama that he appreciated what the administration was doing on the energy-efficiency front, and encouraged him "to push forward."

Durham-based Cree posted $131.1 million in revenue in the latest quarter, up 5 percent from a year ago. That performance was strong enough to make most companies jealous these days, but it actually marked a slowdown from the 20 percent-plus sales growth that the Durham company had been enjoying in recent quarters.

Cree's growth is driven by demand for LED lighting that competes with traditional incandescent and fluorescent lights. LED lighting costs more up front, but pays for itself in the long term because it is more energy-efficient.

Swoboda was one of more than a half-dozen alternative energy CEOs who met with Obama.

"They were looking to have a group of CEOs come in and really share some unfiltered insight into how things are going in the whole clean technology space, in terms of what we are seeing, what is working, what is not," Swoboda said. "It is part of what they are trying to do to get direct feedback into the administration.

"I think it reinforced for [the president] that clean energy companies are being successful and will continue to be successful," Swoboda continued. "He made a point at the end, which was, when it comes to energy-efficiency and some of the policy things that need to happen, we don't have a choice, we can either look backwards or look forward. Obviously, we're a tremendous supporter of moving forward."

Swoboda said the White House invite came with just a day's notice, but he had a light schedule planned. "But you know what?" he said. "I would have been happy to rearrange my schedule to spend some time with him."

david.ranii@newsobserver .com or 919-829-4877

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