That visitor was none other than Barack Obama. The primary vote for North Carolina would be held on Tuesday, and the Obama campaign had decided that they wanted to focus on Energy due to the recent calls for a gas tax holiday and the state of the economy. Cree's LED product looks to target the Energy Conservation market, by offering more energy efficient products that last longer and consume up to 80% less energy than a traditional incandescent bulbs. Obama's appearance at Cree was not anticipated by anyone, and it was a scramble to get everything in place. The second big buzz was that the event would be invite only and it would be limited to about 100 people. Everybody wanted to see who was able to go. I had hopes, but I knew my odds were not great. Cree has arround 1200 employees in NC, and so only 100-150 people being invited only gave me about a 10% chance. I got to work and tried to focus on what needed to get accomplished for the day. About 8 am is when my manager came down to tell me I had made the list, and would be invited to attend Barack's town hall meeting. I was stunned, but wanted to wait and see the actual invite before I got too excited. There had been so much confusion about what was going on that nobody was quite sure what was happening. At 10:00 am on the dot, I got my invite with instructions to head to security at 11:30 for a event that would begin at 12:00 and last till 2:00 pm. The email said that no photographs would be allowed, and to leave all electronic devices behind. Foolishly, I followed the instruction and left my iPhone behind, only to see a ton of blackberrys, cell phones, and cameras at the event; so no pictures for me.
I got to security at 11:30, and found a good seat to the right of the podium. We had to wait until 1pm for Barack to arrive, but the wait was well worth it. Senator Obama was introduced by one of the Fab managers (Fab - fabrication plant). The speech was about 20 minutes long and spent most of the focus on the economy, energy policy, and the gas tax holiday proposal. After a brief plug for Cree LED lights, he dove into audience questions. The first question was from a grassroots activist who was concerned about federal funding for environmental groups at the community level and inspiring a green economy. Taking a cue from Edward's proposal of driving a green economy by building a new class of workers, green collar jobs, which would be encouraged for empowering minority groups. The second question from a small energy conservation company that resided nearby Cree, and had been invited to attend. They were concerned with the federal tax credit aimed at inspiring energy efficiency. That was followed by a question of changing the focus from alternative energy to energy efficiency. I had formulated a question that I wanted to ask (I had a ton I wanted to ask, the hard part was picking the best). Unfortunately, the subject matter I was going to ask about got addressed by a question asking how to restore the US's stature in the world. I was most impressed with Obama's response to this question, in fact I lead the applause after he said he would close Guantanamo bay and restore habeas corpus. I had to reformulate my question since I didn't want to waste the opportunity to rehash covered ground, but the final question went to an undecided voter, which was appropriate. It's too bad I didn't get a chance to ask my question because I had planned to open with what a friend had told me to offer a bit of advice to Obama, "Stop being so nice." But from the looks of how things may turn out today and tomorrow, he may not have to worry about that anymore.
Over all I was thrilled to meet and shake the hand of the man I believe will become the next president. It really was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was not his most dynamic presentation, but it did impress a lot of folks there. I asked few co-workers who were able to attend what they though. "Surprised" was one answer, a republican co-worker liked his energy policy, but had too many moral disagreements with some of his policies to support him. As a final kick, I was interviewed by the BET political blogger after the town hall. Reporters were grabbing folks after the event for quick questions.
For those so inclined, here is footage of the event, I never made it on camera, but its about an hour long: