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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Will Obama's "Public-private innovation institute" at NCSU make Raleigh the new Silicon Valley?

Posted by on Wed, Jan 15, 2014 at 11:50 AM

Explainer video from the Department of Energy about why the "wide bandgap semiconductors" that Raleigh's new "innovation institute" will produce are important.

This morning, as the Triangle lay draped in fog, Obama announced the first of his three new public-private "manufacturing innovation institutes" would be created on NC State's Centennial Campus with the help of $70 million from the Department of Energy and another $70 million matched from non-federal sources.

The awkwardly named "Next Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institute" (what does it even mean?) will partner companies like John Deere, Delphi, Monolith Semiconductor, and IQE with research universities like NC State, UNC, as well as FSU and Santa Barbara to make more efficient motors and "power electronics." A White House press release explains that "power electronics can be found in everything from electric vehicles and industrial motors, to laptop power adaptors and inverters that connect solar panels and wind turbines to the electric grid."

"Power electronics," it goes on, will replace the soon obsolete silicon chip. So a federally-funded power electronics industry in Raleigh is basically a gift of more clean, green middle-class jobs.

Needless to say, Governor "Jobs" McCrory was onhand to meet the President when Air Force One touched down in Morrisville at 11:02 this morning, along with the Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Durham, and Morrisville mayors. McCrory seems happy to scapegot Obama when it caters to his Tea Party base but thankfully decided to follow decorum and go out and shake hands when Obama's "big government" DOE program will create middle-class jobs for North Carolina and thus serve his purpose.

In a way, the President's public-private "innovation hubs" plan is a countervailing chess move to McCrory and the GA's Delaware-style deregulatory strategy as a means to lure business and jobs to North Carolina.

Of course, the $200 million dollar federal plan to spur high-tech development has a great predecessor to buttress its credibility: Silicon Valley. Military contracts from the late 1930s to the late 1960s were crucial to the development of the tech hub. The history of Silicon Valley is the history of the "Military-industrial complex"—private companies and an entire region getting rich off of supplying the government with bombs, missiles, and tech innovation.

Thankfully, the forthcoming "Next Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institute" won't be generating prosperity for Raleigh on the backs of bombs and video-game-shooter drone missiles. Efficient laptop adapters and motors for solar panels and wind turbines are easier on the conscience.
click to enlarge Mikhail Kalashnikov, whose conscience was riven with "unbearable pain" before his death for creating the AK-47. - AP, 2002 FILE PHOTO
  • AP, 2002 file photo
  • Mikhail Kalashnikov, whose conscience was riven with "unbearable pain" before his death for creating the AK-47.

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