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What exactly is happening with NC State and President Obama’s ideas on manufacturing?

That’s a clip from President Obama’s State of the Union 2013 — there’s a 2014 edition on January 28th, which is ironically only about four days after Netflix releases its Mitt Romney campaign documentary — where he talks about manufacturing and innovation. It seems like a couple of steps are now in play with regards to that, as he’s in the Research Triangle area today to talk about a new project and institute at NC State University (along with the state of North Carolina and 18 companies):

The institutes are expected to help bridge the gap between applied research and product development by bringing companies, universities, agencies and others together to invest in technology that encourages investment and production in the United States.

The institute to be led by N.C. State will focus on making wide bandgap semi-conductor technologies cost-competitive with current, silicon-based power electronics. According to the release, wide bandgap semiconductors can operate at higher temperatures and have greater durability and reliability at higher voltages and frequencies, allowing for better performance while using less electricity.

Applications? Cars, consumer electronics, possibly energy grids. This all seems like a good thing.

The institute at NC State — Go Pack! will be called “The Next Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institute.” That’s a mouthful, but it has a good purpose: high-paying domestic jobs could theoretically come out of some of the developments here. Let’s hope it’s not too micromanaged.

The other members of the group include Arizona State University, Florida State University, Virginia Tech, other UNC campuses, UC-Santa Barbara, and companies like Cree and Vacon (both U.S.-based in the Triangle), as well as Toshiba, Delta Products, John Deere and others.

Kay Hagan — who’s got a tough election coming up — knows to jump on board with this stuff ASAP:

https://twitter.com/SenatorHagan/status/423465067602919424

Also kinda interesting that NC would be the hub for this initiative, when you consider that…

There’s more detail here from David Kroll, a half-time faculty member at NC State.

Bottom line on all this: will it be a federal mess with too many cooks in the kitchen off the bat? Sure, probably. But Research Triangle Park has done a lot of interesting things in terms of semiconductors and medicine, and eventually this could be a great development opportunity for some of the big challenges that America faces in terms of jobs, costs, clean-tech, etc. I really hope it goes well. By the way, the whole thing is costing about $200 million, including $70 million from the Department of Energy.

Ted Bauer

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