Obama hits Congress, lauds region [Times Union, Albany, N.Y.]
(Times Union (Albany, NY) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 09--ALBANY -- Instead of a new initiative or a dose of fresh funding, President Barack Obama used his third trip to the Capital Region to offer a "to do list" for Congress that included tax incentives and action to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling.
The Democratic President took the stage Tuesday in a half-finished clean room at the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering to offer his election-year vision of the future.
"Now I want what's happening in Albany to happen all across the country -- places like Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Raleigh," Obama said. "I want to create more opportunities for hardworking Americans to start making things again, and selling them all over the world stamped with those proud words: Made in America. That's the goal."
The NanoCollege started as a bold idea several decades ago that today is helping to transform the region into a 21st century technology powerhouse.
While Obama didn't spend much of his 22-minute speech detailing the work in the facility, the President book-ended his remarks with praise about how the NanoCollege and New York state have helped create a high-tech manufacturing sector in upstate, with billions of dollars of both government and private sector investment. The site is undergoing a $4.8 billion expansion.
NanoCollege officials are hoping the visit could help convince the Obama administration to establish a Department of Defense presence at the school, a move that would open the door to billions of dollars in additional investment.
The President made no public mention of expanding the facility, but Alain Kaloyeros, the CEO of the NanoCollege, said Gov. Andrew Cuomo pitched Obama on the idea of DOD funding as he led the President on a tour of the school's facilities.
"The visit sets the stage for future partnerships with the federal government," Kaloyeros said. "The federal government is the only anchor tenant that is missing here. But it's not that we need them. They need us. There is so much that the Department of Defense could benefit from by being here."
But there were no new proposals on the President's "to do" list. Obama asked Congress to make it easier for homeowners to refinance their mortgages; create or extend tax credits for businesses that expand from overseas operations, hire new workers or use renewable energy; and create a job corps.
Republicans attacked the speech for its partisan tones, and criticized Obama for policies that would not apply more broadly.
"Republican policies, lower taxes, empowering the private sector, not picking winners or losers ... and getting the regulatory process straightened out so that companies can build quickly is the reason we have had so much success," said former Gov. George Pataki on a conference call sponsored by the Republican National Committee. "It is the opposite of the policies that President Obama has put into place which has created a far more difficult economic climate for businesses that want to invest and create jobs to succeed in the United States."
When word first surfaced last week that the President was planning to speak in Malta at Fab 8, the $4.6 billion computer chip factory being built by GlobalFoundries, it was assumed that Obama would use the opportunity to tout his $1 billion advanced manufacturing agenda. The factory started making chips earlier this year. It has hired 1,200 employees since 2009.
For what the White House said was logistical reasons, the event was moved to the NanoCollege. And although advanced manufacturing was touched on -- most of Obama's speech focused on broader economic issues such as tax credits for small businesses, cutting red tape for refinancing mortgages and clean energy.
GlobalFoundries was only mentioned once in his speech, in fact, along with IBM, which makes computer chips in Dutchess County and has a substantial presence at the NanoCollege and works with GlobalFoundries on manufacturing.
Obama used the two businesses as examples of U.S. companies that have decided to invest in U.S. manufacturing operations despite the pressure to build them in lower-cost countries like China.
"You've got companies like IBM and GlobalFoundries that could have decided to pack up and move elsewhere, but they chose to stay in upstate New York because it made more sense to build here and to hire here," Obama said. "You have more to offer -- got some of the best workers in the world, you've got an outstanding university."
After arriving at Albany International Airport at about noon aboard Air Force One along with U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, Obama went to the NanoCollege where he and Cuomo toured the school's NanoFab Central cleanroom, inspecting three "tools" there, the large multi-million dollar machines used to process 12-inch silicon wafers into chips.
"This looks like a pretty fancy piece of equipment," Obama told Martin Rodgers and Maribel Santos-Quinn, two NanoCollege employees who were showing the President a deposition tool made by Applied Materials of Santa Clara, Calif.
NanoCollege officials sectioned off that part of the clean room specially for the President's visit so neither he nor Cuomo would have to don a "bunny suit" workers normally wear to protect the manufacturing environment from contaminants like perfumes or human hair.
Their last stop on the tour was to look at 12-inch silicon wafers used in today's chip manufacturing, along with a next-generation wafer measuring 18 inches across that is expected to be used in future factories. Last fall, Cuomo announced plans by the NanoCollege to host a $4.8 billion initiative by the world's leading chip manufacturers including Intel, to move the industry to the larger 450 millimeter wafers. The consortium will use the $365 million, 280,000 square-foot NanoFab X building to create a pilot 450mm manufacturing line that will be used by the chip fabs of the future. The facility is expected to be completed within a few months with the first tools installed in the fall.
Obama talked with Christopher Borst, an engineering leader at the school, about how the larger wafers would dramatically cut costs for the industry, fueling growth for decades, much of which would be based here in the Capital Region.
Kaloyeros said Cuomo was an excellent tour guide for the President in the high-tech environment.
"The governor was great," Kaloyeros said. "You can tell he knows his stuff. At some point, I was wondering, does the governor have a PhD in physics?"
Most local officials reacting to the speech chose to show their pride in the Capital Region rather than join the President's call.
"It was a shout-out for us here in the Capital Region," said Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, a Democrat. "We've had such a great success story here that the President said, 'look, the rest of the country can learn from this.' He's concerned about a total package, and we should know what his priorities are so we can reinforce them as well."
And Obama's message was diffuse enough that both of the area's representatives in Congress -- Tonko, an Amsterdam Democrat, and Chris Gibson, a Kinderhook Republican -- found something to like.
Tonko said he was in lock step with the President on every bill.
"He needs Congress to move forward and perform so he can get things done," Tonko said.
Gibson said he supported the broad outlines of Obama's speech but felt that tax reform should be approached comprehensively. He pointed to a budget proposal advanced by Reps. Jim Cooper and Steve LaTourette as an example of one that more sharply reduced taxes and government spending than the President has planned.
"I think we actually need to be bolder," Gibson said. "We can certainly incorporate some of his ideas, sit down and work with the president in a bipartisan and bicameral way, to include some of the ideas he had for growing the economy when we do comprehensive tax reform."
Obama flew into Albany two days after kicking off his re-election campaign with stops Sunday in Ohio and Virginia, two swing states that could be major factors in the November election between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.
In 2009, the President visited a lab at Hudson Valley Community College. Last year, he visited the General Electric plant in downtown Schenectady. Like this visit, the trips focused on the economy and the need to create high-tech jobs.
This time, the political push was clearly the focus, and he urged the 400 audience members to call their members of Congress.
"Just about every time we put these policies up for a vote, the Republicans say no," he said. "Over the next few weeks I'm going to be talking about this while I'm on the road, about all the things that Congress can do to accelerate our economy ... we can't afford to wait until November to get things done."
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