Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Obamania 5/8

By my best estimate, President Barack Obama spoke to a standing-room only crowd of about 750 people at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering on Tuesday afternoon.

That's about how many words I had to tell the story that you'll read in Wednesday's print edition of The Saratogian. I lobbied for about twice that number.

Regardless, there are a lot of pieces of information that wound up not making it into my story, mainly quotes from some of the lucky people who got into the invitation-only event.

Turns out having the President show up is a pretty big deal and basically everybody you talk to will have something exceptionally profound or worthwhile to say.

Lucian McCarty spoke to a lot of people and got their reactions, which he compiled into a story here. I didn't have the opportunity to sneak my quotes into his story, so I'll just share them with you here. We'll use subheads to break things down. Look for your favorite name.

Chris Gibson

So Obama pretty much threw Republicans under the bus during his speech, attempting to portray them as stymieing his previous economic initiatives and said that the two sides need to work together. They have worked together to pass some bills, he said, but they need to do more.

Gibson, a Republican Congressman, said that a lot of the initiatives Obama discussed were discussed in a bipartisan budget proposal called Cooper-LaTourette that he entirely supports. This is the best link I could find on the subject. You can read up on it there.

"Many of the major issues we have to tackle are addressed in that bipartisan budget," the Congressman said, though acknowledging that more needs to be done. He did say that he was "so proud" that Obama selected Albany for his speech, the public-private partnership showcasing what he believes is "the future of our economy."

Todd Shimkus

I read a really interesting Associated Press story not too long ago about something called the Obama effect. You can read it here. Essentially, presidential visits drive up publicity for local restaurants.

One of the first questions I asked Shimkus was whether the same principle applied to nanotechnology. After all, you can't just walk into GlobalFoundries and order a computer chip in the same sense that you can walk into a restaurant and order a hamburger. That would be absurd.

Shimkus agreed, but said it never hurts to have Obama show up.

"He's so incredibly popular," Shimkus said. "He's a virtual rock star. He's a trendsetter."

Perhaps someone didn't know the Capital Region was building one of the world's most advanced computer chip manufacturing research centers. Maybe they do now. Shimkus said the one thing he was hoping was Obama to say the words "Saratoga County" or "GlobalFoundries."

"I guarantee that'd be cut out and edited into our promotional materials," Shimkus said.

For the record, Obama did name-drop GlobalFoundries. He didn't mention Saratoga County.

The other question I had for Shimkus was about a poll result that I saw last night. I can't seem to find the link now, but I know it said Obama had a 4 percent lead over GOP Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney among voters who said the economy was the most important issue in the upcoming election.

So an aptly timed speech on the economy would be apropos, right? Absolutely, Shimkus said, but it would be more effective for Obama to that speech in a battleground state like Ohio. New York hasn't gone Republican since the years of Ronald Regan.

Shimkus says that means Obama really believes the Capital Region is doing it right.

"He doesn't need to give these speeches in New York," Shimkus said. "The fact that he is doing it here is pretty significant."

Pete Bardunias

The president of the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County and I chatted briefly on his bus ride into the fab. You could tell he was pretty excited.

"The president's visit showcases what Tech Valley means to our nation's economic future," he said. "Locally educated people are getting local jobs and combining with talent from all over the world to make our region a true center of technological excellence."

Which begs the follow up -- we're in a pretty unique spot here, having CNSE and GlobalFoundries so close to each other. Is that kind of public-private partnership the kind of thing that can be implemented elsewhere in the country?

"Yes," he said. "The work being done in the labs of Albany and the clean rooms of Malta is an example for the rest of the country. Businesses large and small working with educational institutions, government and community leaders have given our region a bright economic future. People of our area can get a good education and high-paying job within an hour's drive of their childhood homes. That will allow future generations to stay here and help our region thrive."

Ron Canestrari

I asked the Assembly majority leader the same question I asked Pete. Do you think this can be replicated?

 "I do," he said. "I think (Obama's) being here is recognition of what we've done and it can be replicated in a lot of the other parts of the country as well."

But we want to stay competitive, right? So if it can be replicated, then don't we need to keep investing into our region so that we stay in the upper echelon? That's rhetorical.

"I think it's very important," he said. "Success builds upon success. We've done well here in Malta and Watervliet. It didn't happen by accident. ... More can be done with some federal and state incentives. This could be the next area of job growth that we desperately need."

Ed Kinowski

Stillwater Supervisor Ed Kinowski is a guy that I feel gets lost in the shuffle sometime. A portion of the Luther Forest Technology Campus -- and the GlobalFoundries property -- sits in his town, but it is most commonly associated with the Town of Malta, which has the majority of the land.

"There's national interest in what we're doing here," he said. 

National interest brings international interest, Kinowski said. If people didn't know the Capital Region was among the world leaders in the high-tech sector, they know now. But he said that it's exceptionally important to keep investing in high-tech growth or else they won't be able to stay competitive in the global economy.

He called it an "understandable challenge, but it's a necessary thing to do."

One other point he mentioned that the national unemployment rate is still above 8 percent, but the Capital Region is doing pretty well. This actually got into my story, but his quote didn't. 

"Where else can you say it's as strong as this?" he asked, rhetorically.

Joanne Yepsen

I was talking to Gibson when Yepsen was on her way out. The Saratoga Springs supervisor was kind enough to e-mail me this statement.

"I was honored to be in attendance today to support President Obama, his policies, and the region's future," she said. "Education at reasonable costs, clean energy, giving incentives for businesses to move back to the United States to promote 'Made In America,' and creating jobs in high tech and manufacturing are all extremely important to Saratoga County. What a feather in our region's cap to have this be the third Presidential visit in four years. The support of the President and our Governor will allow us to forge into the future by continuing to focus on a winning partnership between private industry, government leaders and education."

Sheldon Silver

I figured this would be my only chance to ask the Assembly Speaker how the state can continue to provide incentives so that projects like GlobalFoundries will come to New York State. That $1.3 billion incentive package the state gave GlobalFoundries came before the economy went south. Things aren't like they used to be. The Empire Zone program is gone.

He really never directly answered my question. He kept talking about how important the college is because it's developing the next generation of computer chip technology and it got $4.4 billion in private investment to do that.

I agree to some extent. It's great if they can develop the technology, but the last thing I would imagine anyone wants to see want to do is develop the technology here and see it used in Singapore. Silver, though, said the college is an incentive enough. It gives companies the opportunity to co-locate their research and development programs. That's what GlobalFoundries is doing.

"The research is here," he said of the college. "The facilities are here ... this is the place."

Travis Bullard

One of the things that Obama talked about was creating a new job corps that would help returning veterans find work. I thought this was relevant because GlobalFoundries discussed a new "Field-to-Fab" initiative a couple of weeks ago when they hosted a top Navy official.

The company likes to say that 10 percent of its current workforce is veterans. They also say they employ about 100 veterans and have 1,300 total employees. I barely passed calculus, but I know one of those claims has to be wrong. Regardless, they're looking to hire more. That's important.

I'm going to throw this under here because I don't think it needs its own subhead. GlobalFoundries' CEO Ajit Manocha called President Obama a "champion of American innovation." That was interesting because Obama never really took much of the credit for anything that was happening in Albany.

The President basically said the Capital Region was doing it right and everyone else should take note. So we have that going for us.

Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo, who introduced Obama, joked the rest of the state is going get jealous that Obama keeps coming to the Capital Region. It's the president's third visit since 2009.

Other than that, he praised Obama's leadership skills dropped references to political taglines like "Building a New New York" and "New York is Open for Business." He was only up there for, like, three minutes. He really didn't have anything really compelling to say.

Barack Obama

One of the little known aspects of computer chip plants is just how clean the clean rooms are. They are about 10,000 times cleaner than a hospital emergency room. At CNSE, students are taught how to work on atom-sized particles in these ultra-clean environments. Obama found this amusing.

"Clean is not usually a word associated with college students," he joked, drawing a laugh from the audience.

Earlier, while touring the college, he and Cuomo met with some of the students who were showing off manufacturing tools. "This looks like a pretty fancy piece of equipment," Obama said.

One other thing about President Obama. He entered to "Hail to the Chief," which I should have expected but forgot would actually happen. So for the first 30 or so seconds of his speech all I could think of was this classic scene from "My Fellow Americans."


Before I go, a personal story.

The Saratogian media contingent carpooled down to Albany today. Media check-in was like hours before Obama arrived and there was no food there. We were probably inside the building from about 10:30 to 2:30. Some of us were really hungry by the end of it, so we decided to stop for food on the drive back to the office. We settled on Burger King in Clifton Park.

The problem was that some of us -- read: me -- forgot to take off our White House press credential before walking into the restaurant. I got some odd looks. But, at the risk of sounding unprofessional, the whole day was pretty awesome.


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