2/14/2013 - Obama: Asheville shows the way for country
by Ann Doss Helms and Steve Lyttle - Charlotte Observer
ARDEN - President Obama said Wednesday that an Asheville auto plant's success story is an example for the rest of the country in how to create jobs in the manufacturing sector.
The president arrived in Asheville late Wednesday morning for a visit and speech at Linamar Corp., a Canadian company recruited in 2011.
Saying "I believe in manufacturing," Obama said Asheville has a "comeback story to tell."
He said Asheville officials convinced Linamar to invest in North Carolina and said there are similar stories elsewhere in the country. He added that the presence of Asheville-Buncombe Technical College has provided well-trained workers for Linamar.
"No job in America should go unfilled because nobody has the skills," Obama said in praising the Asheville school.
The president's visit to North Carolina was designed to reinforce the State of the Union address he delivered Tuesday night. In that speech, he focused on jobs, manufacturing and middle-class opportunities.
He arrived at the factory about 11:40 a.m. in a light drizzle. The president was led on a three-stop tour of the factory by three company officials.
At the first stop, he talked to a man who operated a milling machine to create the 13-liter engine block of Volvo and Mack trucks. Obama used a Sharpie to sign something on the employee's red metal cabinet.
The second stop was at a lathe machine used to make axle parts for Caterpillar's large mining trucks. The president slapped two operators on the back, and they walked with him to a giant axle. Obama inspected the part, and the three men chatted and laughed for a few minutes.
The final stop was at a large milling machine. Obama shook hands with two operators, who explained their machines.
The president then went to talk with the employees. He was introduced by Linamar employee Stratton Taylor, who worked at a Volvo plant for 13 years before being laid off. Taylor went back to college, earning a degree, and he was hired in June by Linamar as a quality technician.
In his speech Wednesday to Linamar workers, local dignitaries and the media, Obama said the United States cannot bring back every outsourced job, but he said it is possible to encourage a resurgence of manufacturing. He said the start is to create high-tech centers, such as Asheville-Buncombe Tech.
Obama said that in trying to strengthen the manufacturing sector of the economy, we should be asking three things:
-- How to bring jobs?
-- How to equip people with skills for those jobs?
-- How to make sure workers earn a decent living?
Tuesday night, Obama talked about "making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing."
"A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs, that must be the North Star that guides our efforts," he said.
Matthew and Ricky Mathis of Asheville are taking the path to the middle class that President Obama touted in his State of the Union speech.
Ricky, 20, was working in a convenience store for $8.25 an hour before earning a certificate from Asheville-Buncombe Tech that let him work as a machine operator for Linamar. For the last six months he's been cutting gears for $15.35 an hour, with health insurance and other benefits.
"I hope I can retire from this company," he said.
He and his brother brought their fiancées to hear Obama speak, on a factory floor with Volvo blocks and Caterpillar wheels displayed around the podium.
Matthew Mathias, 27, was an auto mechanic before joining his brother in getting trained at AB Tech and hired by Linamar. "It was a big pay increase," he said. "I went from renting to buying a house, because I have a steady job that's going to be there."
In Buncombe County, the Linamar plant represents a manufacturing revival that has brought 18 new employers in the last two years, said Ben Teague, executive director of the Asheville-Buncombe County Economic Development Coalition.
Recruiters worked with local partners, including public schools and a community college, and used state incentives to entice the multinational company to take over an abandoned Volvo plant south of Asheville. Linamar currently employs about 150 people in the Asheville plant, with a long-term goal of 650, Teague said.
Isaac Coleman and Elinor Earle, activists with the local Democratic party, were proud to welcome the president to Asheville for his fourth visit.
"He loves us and we love him," Earle said.
"Some people are talking about when he leaves office he might get a house here," Coleman said. "But that might be wishful."
Teague said Buncombe County's unemployment rate of 6.8 percent is below the state average of 9 percent.
The president's visit to the mountains was not ignored by Republicans. U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican who replaced Democrat Heath Shuler in the 11th District, issued a statement saying he welcomed Obama to the area but said he encourages the president to "leave the empty rhetoric at home and take a look at the real world. In the real world, the president's policies are not working.
"I encourage him to take time today to speak with the families and businesses who are suffering under his economic agenda."
Obama -- an Asheville resident?
Could Asheville be a retirement destination for the Obamas?
Local boosters were buzzing about that as the president made his fourth trip, and he gave them more to buzz about.
"I love Asheville," he said when he began speaking about jobs and manufacturing at Linamar Corp. "Michelle and I always say, after this presidential thing, find a little place, come on down, play some golf ..."
Obama said he loves two things about this mountain city: The people and 12 Bones Smokehouse, where he has raved about the barbecue.
A group of people showed up at 12 Bones early Wednesday afternoon, thinking the president might arrive for a luncheon treat. They were disappointed, as Obama left town without visiting the restaurant. However, the president apparently didn't leave Asheville disappointed. White House couriers arrived as 12 Bones before Air Force One left town -- to pick up several to-go orders.
Asheville city council member Cecil Bothwell said before Obama's arrival he had heard talk that Obama might retire here. "I think he'd love it and his daughters would love it," Bothwell said.