Part four of the Namaste Solar story covers one special moment in time when Namaste Solar was thrust into the national spotlight by a visit with President Obama. Read more about the lead up to this event with the Namasté Solar story parts one, two, three, and five. (Photo of President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Blake Jones touring the solar array on the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.)
It was early 2009, and Namaste Solar had just come through the economic turmoil of 2008 as well as the internal struggle of whether or not to sell the company. The national economy was slow to recover and President Obama, newly elected, was coming to Denver to sign the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 stimulus bill. Calls started to come in to Namaste Solar with seemingly random questions like “How many employees do you have?” and “How big is the solar system on your office?” Even more strange was the fact that these calls were coming from a number of local and state politicians.
A Visit from the President
Finally, a White House staff member called to invite Namaste Solar to give President Obama and Vice President Biden a tour of one of our projects and to be there when the President signed the stimulus bill. Namaste Solar’s installation on the Denver Museum of Nature and Science was selected as the tour location. It has a 100 kW system and is an isolated building with no tall structures nearby – perfect for a president to take a rooftop tour.
“I remember asking a White House staff member why we were selected,” said Blake Jones, Co-Owner and CEO at the time. “He said they talked to two dozen people asking for recommendations, and we were the number one choice of just about every single person and every single group they asked. That gives me chills to think about. That's just the ultimate business karma story where you can't earn that with one or two big actions. It was like everything that we had done up to that point made us the company they selected.”
The Day Of
The morning of the event, the entire company was at the museum and full of giddy excitement and anticipation as they waited for the bill signing. “One of the highlights for me was that at the time I was a lead DC installer, and it was one of my installs on that roof, so it was a very proud co-owner moment,” said Sam Mason, Commercial Design Manager and Co-Owner. “It was a really exciting time, and we were all just in anticipation. It was a powerful moment to be invited to the stage in this way.”
Blake was ushered to a back area that had been set up like an operations center, where White House staffers were busy at work. “Then you have a flurry of people coming in, Secret Service agents, and all of a sudden the Vice President walks right up to me. He grabbed my hand, didn’t let go for about five minutes it felt like, and he just talked at me. He was telling stories, super friendly, smiling the whole time,” said Blake. “Then there’s another flurry of activity at the corner of my eyes, and it’s the President.”
The President, Vice President, and Blake were escorted to the roof of the museum where Blake gave a tour of the solar panel system. “They were asking questions and interrogating me, but it was in a friendly way. I'm excited because they're asking about renewable energy stuff, policy stuff. The Vice President would ask a something about China or this or that, but he would intersperse stories. He was just funny,’” said Blake. “Then Obama asking questions and he was all business. He'd ask a question, ‘What do you think about this? How's this done? How's that done?’”
After that, it was time for the bill signing ceremony where Blake would introduce the President. Everyone from Namaste Solar was on stage already, standing on risers. “We go out on stage and there's little X’s on the floor where we're supposed to stand and I'm just trembling, incredibly nervous,” said Blake. “Then I get to look over to the right, and there's our whole company right there. It was a beautiful sight, everybody just beaming and glowing.”
Even though he was extremely nervous, Blake gave a great introduction to the President that highlighted the importance of the stimulus bill for small companies and renewable energy. “It’s so much easier for politicians and media to latch on to the big stuff,” said Blake. “What’s the big employer doing? Everyone wants a big lead investor or to talk to the person who has the enormous network. Too many people forget about the grassroots stuff. We were one of thousands of small businesses that were going to benefit from the stimulus bill. I remember wanting to represent that.”
Spotlight on Namaste Solar
This event thrust Namaste Solar onto the national stage and inundated the company with requests, both from people interested in solar as well as requests for Blake to speak at events. The website crashed because of the flood of traffic, and national pundits were suddenly taking a look at this small, Colorado solar company. Blake received the opportunity to attend a town hall event with Vice President Biden soon after, as well as the next State of the Union address as a guest in Michelle Obama’s balcony.
The new visibility was a boost for business, and it boosted the company’s morale. “We had just come through a crisis point in the company’s history and had recommitted to building the company,” said Sam. “I feel like this opportunity really cemented that we had made the right choice. It was like all the pavers were a little lighter and the sun burned a little less. It was really a great morale boost afterwards, and it lasted for some time.”
In addition, the actual substance of the stimulus bill helped bolster Namaste Solar’s prospects. Grants were available for renewable energy projects, Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs opened, and small businesses were able to benefit from tax deductions, credits, and loan guarantees. Blake said, “I think the event represents it, but there’s the foundation underneath it of the actual bill and what having a president that was pro-renewable energy and pro-environment meant.”