Obama’s remarks at Orion Energy Systems

President Barack Obama spoke this morning at Orion Energy Systems in Manitowoc: 

Let me begin by clearing something up. I have not come to Packer Country because I lost a bet.  Sunday was a tough day to be a Bears fan.  But even if it didn’t go the way I wanted, I’m glad we got to see one of the greatest rivalries in sports go another round. And so, in the spirit of sportsmanship, let me just say this: congratulations, and good luck in the Super Bowl.

Last night, I gave a speech some of you may have seen. And what I said was, in this new and challenging time, when America is facing tougher competition from countries around the world than ever before, we’re going to need to up our game. We’re going to need to go all in. We’re going to need to get serious about winning the future.

In the words of the man the Super Bowl trophy is named after: “There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that’s first place.”

That’s the kind of determination to win that America needs to show right now. That means making sure that all of our children are getting the best education possible – not only because we need to give every child a chance to fulfill her God-given potential, but because we need to make sure American workers can go head-to-head with every other country on Earth.

It means making sure our infrastructure can meet the demands of the 21st Century by rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, and connecting America and the American people with high-speed rail and high-speed Internet.

It means doing what we try to do in our own lives and taking responsibility for our deficits by cutting wasteful, excessive spending wherever we find it.  And it means reforming the way our government does business so it’s efficient and responsive to the needs of Americans rather than a cobbled-together relic of an earlier era.

But as important as these urgent priorities are, we also need to make sure that the breakthroughs that come to define the 21st Century take root here in America; that we continue to lead the world in innovation. Because that’s how we’ll create the jobs of the future. That’s how we’ll build the industries of the future. That’s how we’ll win the future in the 21st Century. 

I came here to Manitowoc to glimpse that future. It was right here, almost fifty years ago, that a chunk of metal came crashing down to the Earth. It was part of a satellite called Sputnik that set the Space Race in motion. Well, I want to say to you today that it’s here in Manitowoc that the race for the 21st Century will be won.

This is a city that’s been doing what America has always done throughout its history – you’ve reinvented yourself. Back in 2003, one of the largest employers around, Mirro, moved their operations abroad. It was a difficult time. Jobs were lost. Families were hurting. The community here was shaken.

Fast forward to 2011, and new manufacturing plants – and new hopes – are taking root, part of the reason the unemployment rate here is four points lower than it was at the beginning of last year. These are plants like Tower Tech, one of the largest wind tower manufacturers in North America – a company that’s grown by several hundred workers in recent years. And plants like Skana Aluminum that’s hired more than seventy workers since it took over another part of the old Mirro plant, and has plans to reach one hundred workers by the end of this year. And I’m looking forward to paying them both a visit later today.

But first I wanted to come to Orion – a leader in solar power, and energy efficient technology. I just took a tour with Neal and got a feel for what you’re doing. I saw where the metal is cut, and where the paint is applied, and where the products are assembled.  And I met some of the outstanding workers like so many of you who’ve made this company the success that it’s become.

In 2004, when Orion moved its manufacturing operations here, I’m told that you had just one employee to oversee the development of the manufacturing floor. Today, you’ve got more than 250, and I understand you’re hoping to have more than 300 by the end of 2011. And these aren’t just good jobs that can help you pay the bills and support your families. They’re jobs that are good for all of us; that will make our energy bills cheaper; that will make our planet safer; that will sharpen America’s competitive edge in the world.

The jobs you’re creating here and the growth you’ve achieved have come through hard work, ingenuity and a single-minded focus on being the best at what you do. And you’ve also been supported over the years not only by the Department of Agriculture, and the Small Business Administration, but by tax credits and awards we created to give a leg up to renewable energy companies.

America needs to get behind entrepreneurs like Neal. We need to get behind clean energy companies like Orion. We need to get behind innovation. That’s how we’ll meet the goal I set last night and make sure 80% of America’s electricity comes from clean energy sources by 2035.  That’s how we’ll make America the first country to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. That’s how America will lead the world in clean energy – and as I’ve said before, the nation that leads the world in clean energy will lead the global economy in the 21st Century.

I’m told the Orion story begins a few decades ago, when Neal was switching jobs, and decided to try his hand at clean energy. Clean energy seemed pretty far-fetched to a lot of people back then, but Neal figured there might be something to it. So he bought a couple of solar panel distributors, only to see them both go under.  But Neal didn’t give up. He kept at it, starting Orion, a company that would not only distribute but manufacture its own lights.

Then, about 10 years ago, Neal had an idea. It was around 2:30 in the morning, but Neal hopped in his car and drove to the factory in Plymouth. It was one of those moments when the future couldn’t wait until morning. He grabbed whatever tools he could find – a couple two-by-fours and broom handles – and tinkered around until an engineer showed up.

What Neal had come up with was one of Orion’s signature innovations – a new lighting fixture that produced twice the light with half the energy. It was only then that the real work began – the work of applying for loans, the work of finding investors, the work of finding customers who would believe his improbable pitch.

Doing all of that took time, and patience, and most of all, persistence. It took a determination to succeed. Fortunately, determination is not something Neal lacks. As he has said himself, the difference between Orion and other companies is – quote – “the difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. At Orion,” he said, “we play to win.”

That’s what sets Neal apart. That’s what sets Orion apart. And that’s what sets America apart. Here in America, we play to win. And if entrepreneurs like Neal keep sticking with it, and small businesses like Orion keep breaking new ground; and if we, as a country, continue to invest in you, then I’m absolutely confident America will win the future in this century as we did in the last. Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

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