Cree prepares to host a familiar face: Obama

President's visit Monday will be his second; his third with CEO

Staff WritersJune 10, 2011 

  • In addition to President Barack Obama's visit to Cree on Monday, the Triangle's business community is preparing a warm welcome for White House officials and CEOs on Obama's Jobs Council.

    On Sunday night, local business leaders and executives with the American Tobacco Historic District in Durham will host an invitation-only reception for Obama administration officials and members of the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. The council is made up of private-sector corporate chieftains led by General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, and including Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, Kodak CEO Antonio Perez and Intel CEO Paul Otellini.

    On Monday morning, the American Tobacco campus will host a meeting of the group to discuss entrepreneurship and other issues related to spurring job creation. There are also efforts to organize an outing to the Durham Bulls baseball game on Monday night.

    The events are an opportunity for Durham and the Triangle to show off a bit and bask in some national attention.

    "American Tobacco and our region have gone from cigarettes to startups, from textiles to high tech," Michael Goodmon, an executive with Raleigh-based Capitol Broadcasting, which owns American Tobacco, said in a prepared statement. "The summit here ... is an indication of just how far we've come. We're certain the discussion and action it produces will move us to greater successes: more groundbreaking ideas, more companies and more jobs."

    Staff writer Alan M. Wolf

Chuck Swoboda, CEO of LED lighting company Cree, and President Barack Obama will meet yet again.

On Monday Obama is scheduled to visit Cree's Durham operation, the White House announced Thursday. That will mark the third encounter between the leader of the free world and the corporate executive who is pushing the world to switch to energy-efficient LED lights.

Swoboda visited Obama at the White House in the summer of 2009 along with more than a half-dozen alternative-energy CEOs, using the opportunity to share his company's success story and encourage the president to move ahead on the energy-efficiency front. Obama visited Cree in May 2008 when he was a presidential candidate stumping in North Carolina. This state is again expected to be a key battleground for the 2012 presidential election.

"We're honored to host President Obama at Cree," Swoboda said in a prepared statement. "We look forward to showcasing our industry-leading, energy-efficient technologies and participating in discussions on policies that can spur economic growth and promote U.S. job creation."

Swoboda and other Cree officials weren't available for additional comment.

Obama will deliver remarks to Cree workers, while visiting its manufacturing plant and Durham headquarters.

Part of Monday's discussion is expected to revolve around manufacturing, which makes Cree an eminently relevant stop for Obama. Cree makes its own LED light fixtures as well as LED components that other companies use in lighting products. Cree-made LEDs also are used for illuminating car dashboards, cell phones, televisions and signs.

Obama's trip comes after disappointing news on the jobs front. The nation's unemployment rate was 8.7 percent in May. Employers added 54,000 jobs in May, the lowest number in eight months.

An upbeat story

Cree, however, provides an upbeat backdrop for the jobs picture. The company, which has nearly 2,000 workers in Durham and 5,000 worldwide, announced a $135 million expansion in Durham in September that is expected to create 244 local jobs over two years. The company is in line to receive $4 million in state and local incentives if it meets hiring and investment goals.

That kind of growth and its sexy, green products have made the company a favorite of politicians. Vice President Joe Biden visited in March. Last year's expansion announcement attracted Gov. Bev Perdue and U.S. Sens. Kay Hagan and Richard Burr.

And now Obama is poised to become a repeat visitor.

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

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