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February 14, 2013

Obama: 'No Holding US Back Now,' Except Infrastructure and Technology



Saying that the nation’s “first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing” U.S. President Barack Obama laid out proposals for advancements in  technology, infrastructure, and training  on Tuesday night geared to give America a competitive edge, respond to the challenges of climate change, and ensure a secure future for the next generations.

In a “State of the Union Address” (see video) that his staff had said would follow the strategy of sixth-century Chinese military leader Sun Tzu––“Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across”—the President repeatedly stressed that Congress should search for bipartisan solutions and send legislation to his desk for signature.  However, he warned that, if the Senate and House did not take action, he would do so, himself.

And he did not mince words.  “For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change,” Obama stated. “Now, the good news is we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth.  I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change….But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.  I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

He likened the renewable energy competition of the 21st century to the Kennedy Administration’s Moon missions during the 1960s.  “Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race,” he said, adding, “Today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.”

While the President congratulated the nation on the progress made during his first four years in office, he said Americans could do more. “Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it.  And we’ve begun to change that.  Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America.  So let’s generate even more.  Solar energy gets cheaper by the year—let’s drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all in on clean energy, so must we.”

On the federal level, he pointed to “things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend,” saying, “Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio.  A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.  There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns.” 

To back this up, Obama announced that he would immediately launch three more manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalizations into centers of high tech jobs. “And,” he stated, “I ask this Congress to help create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made right here in America.  We can get that done.”

Although he included and expanded plans for oil, nuclear, and natural gas exploration in his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, the President proposed using “some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.”

What’s more, Obama challenged the states to support energy efficiency. “I’m also issuing a new goal for America:  Let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years,” he said. “We'll work with the states to do it.  Those states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make that happen.”

In terms of infrastructure, Obama asserted that the nation’s legacy energy, communications, and transportation networks were holding it behind—and needed immediate attention, if the United States were to continue attracting overseas businesses to its shores. “America’s energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair.  Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire -- a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and Internet; high-tech schools, self-healing power grids.  The CEO of Siemens (News - Alert) America -- a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina -- said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs.  And that’s the attitude of a lot of companies all around the world,” said Obama.

Finally, the President outlined a plan–similar to the successful initiative already in place in Germany— to prepare U.S. high school students to qualify for good technical jobs upon graduation, explaining, “Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job.  Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges.  So those German kids, they're ready for a job when they graduate high school.  They've been trained for the jobs that are there.  Now at schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, collaboration between New York Public Schools and City University of New York and IBM (News - Alert), students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate's degree in computers or engineering.  We need to give every American student opportunities like this.”  

To incentivize these programs, the President heralded  “a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy”—promising to reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math,- the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future.

What’s more, he asked for a change in the immigration laws that would “harness the talents and ingenuity” of those who want to come to America to study and work.

As was to be expected, industry reaction to the speech was favorable. Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Washington, DC-based Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), commented, “We are especially encouraged by the President’s commitment to securing America’s place as a leader in clean energy innovation throughout the world. President Obama understands that the stakes are high and we must not fall behind other nations as the world shifts to emissions-free clean energy technologies like solar. We thank President Obama for his leadership and look forward to continuing to work with Congress and the White House to make solar an increasingly-important component of the nation’s energy portfolio.”

The public seemed to like it, too. In a poll taken just after the speech ended, the majority of Americans approved of what was proposed. Fifty-three percent of speech watchers questioned in the poll had a very positive reaction, with 24 percent saying they had a somewhat positive response, and 22 percent saying they had a negative response. But the CNN/ORC International survey also indicated that less than four in 10 think the speech will lead to more bipartisan cooperation.




Edited by Brooke Neuman

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