President Barack Obama was in Jacksonville Friday afternoon visiting a lithium-ion battery factory on the city’s Westside. Obama says the Saft plant is the result of stimulus dollars he sat aside for clean energy during his first year in office.
The Saft battery plant opened in 2011 with a federal stimulus grant of nearly $100 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Obama says businesses like Saft are leading a clean energy revolution and creating jobs.
“We turned recession into recovery faster than almost any other country. We took an empty swamp, turned it into an engine of innovation,” he said, referring to the plant’s site near the former Cecil Airfield. “And we knew that it’s going to take more than one year, or even one president to get to where we need to go, but we can see real, tangible evidence of what a new economy looks like. It looks like this facility right here.”
Saft’s 2015 financials show the Jacksonville location lost millions of dollars as sales of renewable-energy batteries have been more sluggish than predicted. As the New York Times first reported, Saft’s chairman says it could take a few years before the Jacksonville plant is profitable.
But the company employs 280 people in Jacksonville, and more than a third are veterans, Obama noted. The batteries produced there store renewable energy from the sun, or wind. Obama said he saw some that were the size of cars, and seeing them all together “looked like trailer parks.”
State Sen. Audrey Gibson (D- Jacksonville) was at the president’s speech and says the factory shows her hometown understands the importance of clean energy.
“Solar and clean energy is a very big topic — the topic du jour if you will — and I think it’s critical that we keep having that conversation,” she said.
Obama says the U.S. has tripled its use of wind power and cut net imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent since the passage of the Recovery Act seven years ago.
And Duval County School Board member Paula Wright was also in attendance, Friday. She said after hearing the number of jobs Saft has brought Jacksonville, her mind goes to Duval’s students.
“How can we connect with Saft and set up tours etcetera so they can better understand the direct connection from school to work,” she says.
While at the factory, the president also took time to reflect on recent mass shootings in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Hesston, Kansas.
“We cannot become numb to this. Anybody who says they want to keep the American people safe has to care about this, because it’s happening in far too many towns and affecting far too many innocent Americans. And there are some things we can do about it. And right now, this Congress may not have any appetite to do something about it, but we need one that does. As long as I hold this office, I’m going to keep on bringing this up, even if it’s not getting the same attention that it should,” he said.