First new fab in decades opens; CEO challenges us to "keep jobs in USA"

Tom Friedman, in the New York Times over the weekend says that China is kicking our ass in ability to create jobs in the new clean-tech field. To see whether he’s right or not I visited the opening of Bridgelux, a new company that is making solid state lighting. The real story here isn’t the technology, even though that’s pretty cool and has already won awards.

No, the big deal here is that this is the first manufacturing plant I’ve seen the tech industry open here in the US in quite some time. CEO Bill Watkins claims it’s the first new fab that’s opened in the San Francisco Bay Area in 25 years.

Jobs.

I get right to the point in my conversation with Bill “why do this here rather than go to China?”

He answers “the problem in America is that we have a hard time demanding jobs for America.” He challenged us to change our public stance toward the creation of jobs and echoed Friedman’s column this weekend.

So how will he get more jobs in America? He says that we need to learn from China. He explained that China takes an “industry building” approach. So what would he do?

1. Get each community to see the importance of upgrading its lights to LED, which saves a lot of power and pays for themselves within three to seven years, he says.
2. Create state bonds, that gets paid back with energy savings.
3. Make sure that at least 60% of the lights are “made in America.”

“The only question is, ‘can we do it here?’ It’s an economic war out there.”

My feedback for Bill?

He’s both nuts and right.

How is he nuts?

1. Politicians aren’t able to get their acts together to build real jobs. Why? Because politicians are too focused on their local areas and won’t vote to benefit some plant in some other state.
2. States are trying to keep basic services going, and voting on some new-fangled lights just won’t be as big an issue as keeping the fire department open or books in schools, etc.
3. The TEA party is going to keep public debate focused on government spending. Anyone who tries to suggest that spending be increased, even on something that saves energy, will get drown out.

How is he right?

1. If we want to really create the millions of jobs that we need in this country we need to take an industry-building approach.
2. Green tech is a HUGE opportunity. In lighting alone every single light we use will be replaced in the next decade or so (I’m already seeing the trend, both of my cars have LED lights now and I’m seeing more and more every day). That’s billions of lights. Someone will make those, but who?
3. The investment in industries, rather than just temporary stimulus or short-term jobs, causes a whole passalong effect in the economy. For every job inside the fab that’s created entire other companies are created to serve these fabs with materials and tools (and this fab is very small compared to the ones that have been built in China to serve other industries).

So, America, do we have what it takes or are we going to let yet another industry move to China?

GreenTech Enterprise is reporting that Philllips, Osram, and General Electric, not to mention other Asian brands coming along, have already built LED fabs in China and other “lower cost” places than America. You should read their report, which quotes US Congressional Representative John Garamendi. He says Republicans keep voting down provisions that when cities buy equipment they must buy at least some of them from US manufacturing plants.

It’s there in black and white.

Does this country have what it takes to invest in high-tech American manufacturing jobs?

So far the answer is a big fat “no.”

Comments

      1. Without free-trade you’d be driving a Ford, paying BMW prices, and still be thinking you had done well.

        Without free-trade, I wouldn’t be using MS or Rackspace or lots of other US made and sourced products.

  1. Interesting, but I’m not sure why you invoke the Tea Party. A great majority of Americans are concerned with the debt they are being handed from useless stimulus, failed mortgage bailouts, etc. The government has already tried a “green jobs” stimulus, and like all the others it failed because the federal government only hinders job creation. I’m not trying to start a political discussion, but I sense you are trying to push blame on republicans. I’m sure one day you will realize that Obama and big government democrats don’t encourage private business, hence part of the reason we are in this mess at this time.

    Business in the U.S., especially small ones could care less about lighting and so-called “green tech” right now. They are barely able to keep open as it is. While I personally would love to see everything comes from the U.S. and such, I also have a problem with forcing private business via legislation to be forced to buy items from X location, even though it is likely they will end up paying more for it.

    This is a great topic to be discussing, but it’s not as “black and white” as it seems.

    1. Well, at the launch there were Democratic Congresspeople and NO REPUBLICANS!!! (Your stance is totally wrong, in other words).

      Says VOLUMES to me about how important Republicans think high tech jobs actually are. I bring up the TEA party because they are driving debate now on talk radio and on mass media. They are in charge of the debate now and their mantra is reduce spending. Here’s a businessman who is telling you that is the wrong thing to do for jobs and you’re not listening.

    2. Well, at the launch there were Democratic Congresspeople and NO REPUBLICANS!!! (Your stance is totally wrong, in other words).

      Says VOLUMES to me about how important Republicans think high tech jobs actually are. I bring up the TEA party because they are driving debate now on talk radio and on mass media. They are in charge of the debate now and their mantra is reduce spending. Here’s a businessman who is telling you that is the wrong thing to do for jobs and you’re not listening.

    3. Well, at the launch there were Democratic Congresspeople and NO REPUBLICANS!!! (Your stance is totally wrong, in other words).

      Says VOLUMES to me about how important Republicans think high tech jobs actually are. I bring up the TEA party because they are driving debate now on talk radio and on mass media. They are in charge of the debate now and their mantra is reduce spending. Here’s a businessman who is telling you that is the wrong thing to do for jobs and you’re not listening.

    4. Well, at the launch there were Democratic Congresspeople and NO REPUBLICANS!!! (Your stance is totally wrong, in other words).

      Says VOLUMES to me about how important Republicans think high tech jobs actually are. I bring up the TEA party because they are driving debate now on talk radio and on mass media. They are in charge of the debate now and their mantra is reduce spending. Here’s a businessman who is telling you that is the wrong thing to do for jobs and you’re not listening.

    5. Well, at the launch there were Democratic Congresspeople and NO REPUBLICANS!!! (Your stance is totally wrong, in other words).

      Says VOLUMES to me about how important Republicans think high tech jobs actually are. I bring up the TEA party because they are driving debate now on talk radio and on mass media. They are in charge of the debate now and their mantra is reduce spending. Here’s a businessman who is telling you that is the wrong thing to do for jobs and you’re not listening.

      1. Considering that the Republicans only represent 36% of all CA Congressmen, and that usually it is only the local or district politicians that show up to photo-ops, this event along says NOTHING.

        Many manufacturing jobs are moving out of the US simply because of cheap labor (Republican mantra) and government regulation, unions, and taxes (Democrat mantra)

        Government can do very little to actually create jobs. They need to support enterprises through reduced regulation (in certain areas) and reduced taxes. Look at the heavily regulated communications industry. Voice is a commodity, and is free through many channels. Yet there is massive bureaucracy and regulation (ie costs and jobs) to manage this control.

        The problem is on both sides of the isle with politicians protecting their local pork.

  2. Maybe Instead of an uphill multi-front battle of getting government on board he should work with the utilities. They’re building new plants to keep up with increasing demand and the possibility of increasing capacity by reducing demand is always a better alternative than investing hundreds of millions (or billions) in new plants. There a many, many precedents for this type of incentive such as low flush toilets, shower heads, remote a/c controls, etc. Companies like GE that own the whole chain could push a bill through congress (with some green grease) that provides incentives for manufacturing solid state lighting in the US which would allow them to benefit on both ends – they gain capacity and are guaranteed an incentive for building the product that makes it possible.

  3. Well, here’s a businessman who could also be…. you know….. wrong. Which is time the market will determine one way or another. And as for Repubicans, how many you got in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area? Not scads I’d wager. What this really speaks volumes about is how dicey most businessmen and investors think it is to open any kind of plant or business in the US when they don’t know what is going to be coming from the government tomorrow, not to mention next year. Seems to me you’re still hopin’ on the change. Guard the change, Sc, guard that change!

  4. What is the cost of manufacturing this light here as opposed to in China? In case it is higher here then are we asking consumer to pay more to keep jobs in America? If yes then are we going to tax imports from China to increase cost of manufacturing goods? If yes then what happens when China retaliates.

    I think industry building approach is right though. Give tax breaks in incentives to manufacturers so that cost of producing goods here is comparative to China. Creating artificial barriers never works on the long run.

  5. Nuts? Yes. This is the same Watkins that literally ruined Seagate, looks like his track record will remain steadfastly intact. Right? It doesn’t matter. It’s toast anyways. Green tech is a farce, quality, affordability, supply/demand win out, tho always some smuggy pretentiously earnest do-gooders who don’t mind paying triple for “green” or “organic”, so target the yuppie suckers.

  6. Personally, I’d like to see a decade or so long ‘space race’ type cleantech innovation situation emerge. That would really get thing going, as perhaps to where they need to be.

  7. Bullshit.

    In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Coporate socialism (such as TARP) has made it more beneficial to invest in non manufacturing. Rather than innovate, US industries sponsor treaties like ACTA and the various unilateral Free Trade Agreements that the US signs with other nations. These ALWAYS include provisions for specific US industries such as the US Recording Industries, US Pharmaceuticals.

  8. This would make it illegal according to the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Government Procurement, which the US signed in 1996 and therefore had to comply with.

  9. In case it is higher here then are we asking consumer to pay more to keep jobs in America? If yes then are we going to tax imports from China to increase cost of manufacturing goods? If yes then what happens when China retaliates.