The Capital Region economy’s shift toward high-technology jobs is an example for the rest of the country, President Barack Obama said Tuesday in a facility that embodies that shift.
“I want what’s happening in Albany to happen all across the country,” the president said during a campaign-style appearance before about 650 people gathered in a half-constructed research space at the University at Albany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.
Obama and Gov. Andrew Cuomo both struck a theme of how advanced operations like the GlobalFoundries Fab 8 computer chip manufacturing plant in Malta — where 1,300 now work — are restoring jobs in the United States.
“Cutting-edge companies are deciding to locate here and build here,” Obama said.
More on presidential visit
The president, seeking re-election this fall, used the setting of the nanocollege — a growing $8 billion public/private advanced research site — as the backdrop for a major speech in which he challenged Congress to pass a “To-Do List” of economic legislation.
“At this ‘make or break’ moment for the middle class, there is no excuse for inaction,” Obama said, alluding to the tensions between his administration and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which has bottle necked major legislation for the last two years.
The president said his initiatives would accelerate the expansion of American manufacturing jobs. Since the end of the recession, he said manufacturing jobs are increasing domestically for the first time since the 1990s.
“Even when we can’t make things cheaper than in other countries, because of their low wage rates, we can make them better. That’s what America is all about,” he said.
In Washington, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, immediately reacted to the “To Do List” by urging the president to adopt the GOP’s small-government, lower-taxes platforms for economic expansion.
But Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, who attended the event, said he thought Congress could work with Obama on the economic issues. Gibson said the presidential visit shows that the Capital Region is being recognized for the job creation and research taking place here.
“The president could have gone anywhere, and he came to New York,” he said.
Tour of the future
The presidential event was held inside the partially finished future “clean room” at Fab X, part of a $4.4 billion expansion at the college that will lay the groundwork for researching more efficient semiconductor chip manufacturing technologies.
Before the speech, Obama and Cuomo got a tour of the nanocollege, which has three buildings that are already filled with high-tech computer chip manufacturing tools.
“They’re making the next generation of semiconductors right here,” Cuomo said as he introduced Obama.
GlobalFoundries officials have said they wouldn’t have located Fab 8 in Malta if not for the advanced research capabilities at the university.
“We are having semiconductors made in the U.S.A. and exported around the world. Doesn’t that sound great?” Cuomo asked.
Obama as well emphasized the theme of manufacturing jobs being developed in the United States rather than overseas.
The Albany Nanotech complex “is one of the only colleges in the world devoted to nanotechnology,” he said. “This school and this facility represent the future of our country.”
This was Obama’s third visit to the Capital Region in four years, and all of his stops have emphasized high-tech jobs or job training. He visited Hudson Valley Community College in Troy in 2009, and General Electric in Schenectady last year.
This time, the draw was expected to be the $6.9 billion GlobalFoundries Fab 8 computer chip plant in Malta, which has hired 1,300 employees in the last year as it starts computer chip production.
That was the announced site of the president’s visit last Thursday, but on Friday the location was shifted to the Albany college for “logistical reasons.”
GlobalFoundries nevertheless played a big part in the event, with the company’s top leadership and management seated in the front row. GlobalFoundries CEO Ajit Manocha spoke.
“Public-private partnerships supporting advanced manufacturing and research are invaluable to advancing the nation’s economy,” Manocha said.
Both GlobalFoundries and Albany Nanotech have benefited from such partnerships.
GlobalFoundries got a $1.4 billion state incentive package to locate Fab 8 in Malta, while the nanocollege has been built over the last 15 years with a combination of state and private investment.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said the public investment was vital to the success of those projects.
“The public sector has a role to play, a very legitimate role,” he said before Obama’s speech.
On the “To-Do List” Obama sent to Congress:
• Eliminate tax incentives for companies to ship jobs overseas.
• Help homeowners refinance their mortgages by cutting red tape.
• Adopt a tax credit for small businesses that hire new employees.
• Create a Veterans Job Corps to help veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan find jobs.
“Each idea on this list will accelerate the economy and help put people back to work,” Obama said.
He also urged Congress to renew tax credits for alternative and clean energy companies, and pass a new long-term transportation infrastructure funding bill.
“We need to pass a transportation bill that guarantees nearly one million construction workers can remain on the job,” Obama said.
There hasn’t been a long-term federal transportation bill since 2009.
Pradeep Haldar, a professor at the nanocollege who specializes in clean energy research, praised the president’s position on alternative energy, and called congressional action to continue the alternative energy tax credits “absolutely critical” to encourage further research and development of those technologies.
“We could do the same thing for clean energy as we have done for semiconductors,” Haldar said.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Obama’s choice to speak at the nanocollege shows how the investments that the state started nearly 20 years ago, when Mario Cuomo was governor, have paid off.
“That President Obama chose the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering as the venue for his remarks on economic development attests to the enormous success of our vision and our efforts,” Silver said in a news release. “The innovative partnership at CNSE, which includes IBM, Intel, Tokyo Electron, GlobalFoundries and a host of other leading-edge corporations, is a prime example of American ingenuity and American leadership.”
Rick Whitney, president of MW Group USA, the high-tech construction company that has built the clean room facilities at both Albany Nanotech and GlobalFoundries, said the president’s visit is raising the region’s profile.
“This is on the radar in Germany. My global CEO is aware of this. We’re really proud to have him in our building,” Whitney said. “The facilities we’re building are really laying the groundwork for the future.”
MW Group USA last year moved its U.S. headquarters from Texas to Watervliet.
“Tech Valley’s long-term growth strategy dovetails with what President Obama is focusing on today: Ensuring that next-generation research and development takes place here, that we innovate here, and that advanced manufacturing takes place here,” said F. Michael Tucker, president of the Center for Economic Growth in Albany.
State and local politicians, college staff and students, representatives of GlobalFoundries and guests made up the audience.