In one North Carolina county, it's “growth, growth, growth.” But will Biden reap the benefits?

SILER CITY, N.C. — At the epicenter of President Joe Biden's promised economic boom, a slow tractor can still hold up traffic.

Only 81,000 people live in rural Chatham County, North Carolina. There are 1,076 farms. The old mill now houses a dance studio, a grocery store and a steakhouse. For work, many people have no choice but to commute to nearby Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh.

But after years of careful planning, Chatham County is beginning to change.

The new Wolfspeed factory – six football fields long – overlooks I-64 and will soon produce advanced wafers for computer chips. Automaker Vinfast will also open a factory. Both projects are largely the result of incentives that Biden has written into law.

Developers, including Walt Disney Corp., plan to build several thousand new homes.

“When the right opportunity came along, we were there and we were ready,” said Greg Lewis, owner of the steakhouse. “It's growth, growth, growth.”

That same economic story is being repeated in a number of other crucial battleground states, including Arizona and Georgia.

But while the enthusiasm expressed by Lewis would generally be a strong tailwind for an incumbent president, there is little polling evidence so far this election year that Americans are giving Biden credit for the win, as voters turn instead still concentrate on inflation, which is still rising. 3.4% annualized.

Places like Chatham County show how this year's presidential campaign offers two competing visions of America's economic future.

Voters face a decade-defining choice about what can do more for growth: former President Donald Trump's preference for tax cuts that target businesses and the wealthy or the targeted government investments backed by Biden, as well as possible tax hikes to boost middle-class programs to fund .

The county supported Biden over Trump in 2020, but is in Rep.'s solidly Republican congressional district. Richard Hudson. He voted against the Democratic president's policies and his office declined to answer questions about whether investments in his district are positive.

How much the influx of federal and private sector money affects political dynamics in North Carolina and beyond will have a lot to say about who will win November's presidential election.

Biden is campaigning on how his policies have helped pump hundreds of billions of dollars in private and federal investment into companies, reviving the faded computer chip sector and developing newer technologies such as electric vehicles, solar panels and artificial intelligence. But so far, the investments have not significantly affected the public.

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, claims Biden's ideas would destroy the economy and that electric cars will flop against a proven fuel like gasoline. He says corporate tax cuts would do more to fuel growth by letting companies choose their own path, and that a threat of higher rates would ensure they keep their factory jobs in the United States.

“Would everyone want to buy an electric car?” Trump asked at a recent rally, where he drew a chorus of “No!” was told.

Speaking at Wolfspeed's headquarters in Durham last year, Biden described the chips as not only powering the economy but also protecting it from supply chain disruptions and competition from China.

“It's a game changer,” he said. “We are turning things around in a big way.”

The new Wolfspeed factory has started installing industrial ovens that heat up to half the temperature of the sun. The plant is prepared to begin production by the end of the year, while many of the other announced government incentives across the country are still blueprints or in the construction phase.

Pending government approval, the company could receive support through tax credits from Biden's Inflation Reduction Act. It has also applied for funding through the Department of Commerce as part of the CHIPS and Science Act 2022.

Wolfspeed CEO Gregg Lowe said the potential for government support is “very important” as the company has tried to produce more silicon carbide, a material that increases the efficiency of computer chips. He said the material “will lead to one of the most important transitions in the history of semiconductors,” making EVs, solar panels, data centers and other technologies such as energy storage work better.

Even though the company is more focused on its business than electoral politics, the changes in Chatham County extend beyond the factory in ways that could matter in November.

People can see the new hotel, the new gas stations and the acres of lots set aside for new homes. County Commissioner Karen Howard, a Democrat, said the debate is being forced because Democrats are pointing to what they say is clear evidence that they are keeping their promises. Howard emphasized that the gains were the result of years of work by provincial officials on sustainable growth, which was then supplemented by federal policy.

“It feels like Republicans are turning a blind eye to what voters want,” she said. “Tax cuts for the biggest guys in the world have never amounted to the person who is barely making ends meet.”

Howard said the expected total of 1,800 jobs at the Wolfspeed facility will transform households.

“When we say it's a generational change for these families, you now have individuals who will earn more than their entire family in a year,” Howard said.

But Republicans in the North Carolina Legislature say investments in the state had more to do with their own policies than Biden's incentives. Republican lawmakers are making the argument that the impact of inflation during Biden's presidency is more important to voters.

“We cut taxes, grew the state's economy and built the best workforce in the country,” said Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the North Carolina Senate. “Bidenomics means higher costs for families and businesses here, and that's what voters will remember when they go to the polls.”

Both Trump and Biden have committed to increasing factory production in the US and making it less dependent on countries like China. So far, the numbers suggest that Biden's policies have done more for manufacturing than Trump's 2017 tax cuts.

Census Bureau figures show that annual spending on factory construction peaked at $82 billion per year under Trump. Since last March, it has more than doubled, adjusted for inflation, under Biden to a record $223 billion. The president has also created more manufacturing jobs than Trump before the disruptions caused by the 2020 pandemic.

But that doesn't mean Biden's industrial strategy is certain.

Chatham County data shows Vinfast has reduced the footprint of its EV factory, with the company saying in a statement that it is “currently reviewing the construction of the factory.”

Government officials say success will require breakthroughs to lower the production costs of advanced computer chips relative to Asia. More drivers will also need to switch to electric vehicles to reverse the recent sales slowdown.

Some Republicans see room for both some of Biden's policies and tax cuts, saying a mix was the optimal path for success.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., voted for the CHIPS and Science Act, which funds semiconductor factories. Tillis said after touring Wolfspeed's new factory that the combination of tax breaks and government financial support has been critical in attracting new factories.

“In the end it is the balance that makes the difference,” he said in an interview outside the factory.

As Wolfspeed's Lowe explained it, the chips produced by the company's factory will help the US compete with China in the EV, solar panel and artificial intelligence sectors. He happens to drive a Lucid electric car that contains his own company's chips, giving him an impressive range of 520 miles, enough to drive to his hometown in Ohio on one charging stop.

The CEO did not speculate on the outcome of the election, but he said technologies such as silicon carbide represent “a monumental change in the history of semiconductors” that is helping to reshape the economy.

In short, he sees no way back.

“I say this to our people all the time: You know, thirty years from now you'll look back at this moment and it will be your mission control, the Apollo 13 moment, where you say, 'I was there when this technology switched. ''

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