GREENSBORO — In his first visit to the city since being elected, President Joe Biden talked about the economy, education and infrastructure during a stop Thursday afternoon at N.C. A&T.
Before speaking to his “Building A Better America” plan, Biden took a tour of the new Harold L. Martin Sr. Engineering Research and Innovation Complex. The $90 million, 130,000-square-foot building (Information has been changed to correct an error. See correction at bottom of story. 2:53 p.m. April 15, 2022) at 1601 E. Market St. is named for the school’s chancellor and opened earlier this year.
Biden was joined on the tour by Gov. Roy Cooper, U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning of Greensboro and EPA Administrator Michael Regan, a graduate of A&T. They first met with professor Kaushik Roy, who directs the Cyber Defense and AI lab, and two students, Mansi Bhavsar and David Johnson.
The tour then visited a robotics lab, where a small team demonstrated how Spot — a robotic dog — can easily maneuver to aid in inspections and searches.
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“The work you’re doing is important,” Biden told several students and staff.
He said many historically Black colleges and universities don’t have the capital to have labs like the ones at A&T’s new building.
“You have the talent. You just have to have the opportunity,” he told students.
He said technology will see more change in the next 10 years than during the past 50. Biden has emphasized his support to provide more funding to HBCUs in the coming years and providing more Pell grants.
After the tour, Cooper, Manning and Regan each addressed a crowd of students, faculty and guests inside the Alumni-Foundation Event Center on Benbow Road. Local dignitaries such as Mayor Nancy Vaughan and Guilford County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin “Skip” Alston were among those in attendance.
“You have everything you need to soar and the world never needed you more. So never forget that,” Regan said. “Yes, indeed. Your degree from a historically Black university can take you anywhere, including the White House.”
Addressing inflation, Cooper acknowledged that gas and food prices are going up and stressed the need to address supply chain concerns while strengthening the economy and infrastructure.
Manning cited Toyota’s announcement to invest $1.3 billion to build a car battery plant at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite near Liberty and Boom Supersonic’s plans to build its super-fast jet at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro.
Biden, who also mentioned Toyota’s plans and new jobs, told the crowd that the economy grew and the debt dropped last year.
“All told this economy grew by 5.7% last year in 2021 … the fastest growth in 40 years. And in the process of doing all this we still cut the deficit last year by $350 billion just last year alone and by an additional $1 trillion this year in budget cuts,” he said.
He also talked about money for infrastructure.
“This year, there is $92 million available to North Carolina alone for infrastructure.”
Biden has struggled with passing his “Building A Better America” plan, a list of economic reforms aimed at working-class families, along with climate goals and focuses on education and other areas he says have been lacking attention in Washington. He is calling on Americans for their support.
Tobiah Morrison-Danner, a sophomore studying industrial engineering, said Biden’s speech resonated with her.
“I see the efforts that the Biden administration has put into place to ensure that America progresses to become a leader and also a great source, instead of always having to rely on other countries,” Morrison-Danner said.
“My major pertains to manufacturing and the progressiveness and the environment in the industry — especially manufacturing,” she said. ”As an industrial engineer with a concentration in supply chain management, I definitely believe I would like to improve those systems.”
Dr. Mary Jo Cagle, CEO of Cone Health, said she appreciated hearing an emphasis about American-made products and a reduction in supply chain woes, especially after nationwide supply shortages during the pandemic.
In addition to also supporting calls to boost infrastructure and high speed internet, Cagle said she is particularly excited about Biden’s commitment to invest in historically Black colleges and universities.
“The investment will be extremely important,” Cagle said, noting that Cone Health benefits from hiring graduates from local schools like A&T.
Lauryn Sneeze, a senior studying fashion merchandising and design, said she liked what Biden said about boosting the supply chain using American jobs.
“It was just great to hear how much North Carolina is being invested in and how much our HBCUs are being invested in and bringing resources here so that we can all go out into the world and bring innovation and good ideas,” Sneeze said.
“As a fashion major and merchandising major, supply chain is a really big issue within our industry right now,” she said, “as well as manufacturing, the cost of goods and starting a business and all that. So it was good to hear that he’s invested in lowering costs, while also providing opportunity for entrepreneurship and innovation. I really enjoyed his talk.”
The Lee family of Greensboro got to attend the event after a surprise call Wednesday from the White House. Jackson Lee, 16, had recently received his Eagle Scout award for refinishing the playground at Starmount Presbyterian Church. His mom had written to several public officials, including Biden, hoping to get a congratulatory letter.
“It’s pretty surreal to get a call from the White House,” his mom Lindsay Lee said. Since the call went to voicemail, she “did a Google search” to verify the number was for real.
Jackson’s 13-year-old sister was excited to attend. “I think it’s a really good opportunity just to see what he has to say,” said Eliza Lee, who got to skip school for the occasion.
Jonia Howard and Nyla Richardson, 19-year-old political science students, were excited to hear the president speak.
“This is something that ties into what we want to do in the future,” Howard said.
Richardson said she thought the speech was informative, passionate and very encouraging. “I didn’t know as much progress had been made economically as what he had shown us and told us,” she said.
However, she said, “My one question is, if the deficit has been lowered so much and we’re in such a great economic standing, why is student loan relief still a factor? … As a student coming from a lower income family, those are the main questions that I want to ask because … those are the things that we need.”
“He also said that there’s nothing Americans can’t do, and … that’s true,” Howard said. “I want to see more improvements, let’s continue to go down this improving line so we’re able to fulfill the things and the needs that Americans need.”
Freshman Drew Smith, who is studying electronics technology, was glad to see the president visit the HBCU. “I’m really excited for the country to see A&T. … To see all the talent it produces and to just experience it, really.
“When you walk on A&T you can definitely feel the Greensboro Four, (astronaut) Ronald McNair, you can just feel their legacy with every step you take,” Smith said.
Democratic Congresswoman Alma Adams, whom Biden personally recognized during his speech, said she was very pleased with Biden’s speech.
“It’s all about jobs and opportunity,” she said. An A&T graduate herself, Adams said, “all these young folks, they’re our future — and actually, they are our right now.”
Not impressed with Thursday’s presidential visit to the Triad are Michael Whatley, chairman of the state Republican Party, and high-ranking state Rep. Jon Hardister of Whitsett, who called the stop in Greensboro a “taxpayer-funded public relations visit” as they tore into the state of the U.S. economy, including the highest gas prices in decades.
Also on a call Thursday morning with reporters about the visit was N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore.
“President Biden and anyone who voted for him owes us an apology and a tank of gas,” Moore said.
While some economists say the state of the economy, including $8 grocery store bacon Moore also mentioned, is tied more to incidents here and around the world such as the pandemic, past presidential policies and Russia’s war on Ukraine, the Republican Party has seized on that as a way to frame the president’s leadership.
Upon learning of Biden’s visit earlier this week, Hardister suggested Biden look at replicating economic successes that took place during Republican leadership in North Carolina.
“The problem is he’s going to talk about ‘Build Back Better,’ which is really a continuation of failed policies,” Hardister said of an economic plan that Biden’s administration has struggled to pass that has been reframed as “Building a Better America.”
Before Biden left the campus, he stepped outside — under heavy security nearby — to briefly wave to students, university employees and other members of the community who gathered along Benbow Road in hopes of getting a glimpse of him.
See our coverage throughout the visit and more photos below:
Find out more about the president’s visit and get updates throughout the day at greensboro.com.
PHOTOS: President Biden visits NC A&T
PHOTOS: President Joe Biden arrives at PTI Airport on Air Force One
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