Obama Reiterates Need for Cleantech Entrepreneurs in Rebuilding Economy


President Obama last week visited an electric vehicle R&D lab in California where he called on battery developers to step up and innovate. Today, back at the White House, the President once again reached out to cleantech entrepreneurs, this time at an event dubbed “Investing In Our Clean Energy Future.”

Obama met with entrepreneurs and researchers to talk about building an economy that runs on renewable energy and creating green jobs — and to continue promoting his 10-year budget plan, which includes $75 billion to make the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit permanent.

Paul Holland, who focuses on early-stage cleantech investments as a general partner at Foundation Capital and sits on the board of green building materials maker Serious Materials (and will speak at our Green:Net conference tomorrow), kicked off today’s session by telling event attendees about Serious Materials’ plans to reopen shuttered plants and rehire laid-off workers.

As we noted last week, Serious Materials has directly attributed its job openings to the economic stimulus package — so it’s no wonder the administration wants the company’s story told. Obama described the windows plant Serious Materials plans to reopen in Pennsylvania as “whirring back to life,” giving workers “a new mission producing some of the most energy-efficient windows in the world.”

Other companies basking in the presidential treatment today (their technologies were on display at the event) include Solyndra, the solar company that snagged the first DOE loan guarantee in a long-delayed program last week, and Orion Energy Systems, maker of low-tech but energy-efficient lighting for the commercial and industrial markets, including fluorescent light bulbs as well as pipes that let sunlight indoors and can replace electric lights for much of the day.

“Your country needs you to create new jobs and lead new industries,” President Obama told the entrepreneurs. “Your country needs you to mount a historic effort to end once and for all our dependence on foreign oil,” he said (you can read the full transcript here).

At this point, “We’re hiring!” announcements like the one from Serious Materials are not nearly as common as those unveiling staff reductions. Last week, for example, Acciona Windpower said it planned to lay off a third of its workforce at an Iowa wind turbine plant. So entrepreneurs need more than a pep talk before they’ll start hiring again. Acciona, for example, said it plans to staff up once stimulus funds start moving.

Obama seems to have gotten the memo: He ended his talk today by saying, “Often it takes not just the commitment of an innovator, but the commitment of a country to innovation,” and committed the U.S. to doing just that. How? By digging deep into government coffers.



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