Less than 24 hours after he delivered the State of the Union address to the nation, President Barack Obama delivered a 20-minute speech to about 200-300 people at Linamar Corp., where he emphasized the importance of manufacturing jobs in relation to building a stronger middle-class.
“Our middle class when it’s growing, when it’s thriving, when there are ladders of opportunity for people to do a little bit better each year and then make sure that their kids are doing even better than them — that’s the American Dream,” he told the crowd, made up mostly of Linamar workers, their families and government officials. “I believe in manufacturing. I think it makes our country stronger.”
But three years ago, it was unknown whether the 228 manufacturing jobs that vanished when the Skyland Volvo plant closed would come back stronger or even come back at all. Addressing the crowd in front of machinery at the Canadian auto-parts manufacturing company, Obama said, “There’s a good story to tell here.”
From there, he applauded the efforts of local officials who reached out to companies and offered incentives. Buncombe County Commissioners offered $14.5 million in tax incentives, in addition to the more the $1 million offered by the City of Asheville. Currently, Linamar has promised to fill 650 jobs and invest $200 million in the Skyland facility.
Obama says he credits these incentives and local and statewide partnerships for why Linamar settled in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
“While they could have gone any place in the world, they saw this incredible potential right here in Asheville. They saw the most promise in this workforce, so they chose to invest in Asheville, in North Carolina, in the United States of America,” he said.
Obama said this kind of work should be happening across the country, and offered a four-pronged approach to accelerate manufacturing jobs. The outline includes: Creating more centers for high-tech manufacturing, reform the tax code to be more competitive, partner with local leaders to attract manufacturing jobs especially when the town has lost manufacturing jobs and help workers get the training they need.
But he did not use a business to illustrate his point. Instead, he used the story of the Linamar quality technician who he met during a tour of the facility: Jeff Brower. Brower used to work at Volvo Construction Company, but lost his job shortly after he and his wife discovered they would be having twins. But he went back to school and was eventually hired by Linamar.
“He decided it was time for him to change careers. He decided it was time to get some new skills. He went to AB-Technology, took a class in automated machining. A few months ago, Jeff got his diploma. He graduated on a Wednesday, interviewed at this plant on Thursday. By Friday, he was working as a machine operator,” Obama said, adding, “That’s the American story. We don’t give up. We get up. We innovate. We adapt. We learn new skills. We keep going.”
Speaking to Xpress after the presidential event, Bower said that he believes in Obama’s four-pronged approach to bringing back American manufacturing.
“I think that’s the backbone of our country is manufacturing. I think that’s what we were built on, and I think we need to continue that,” he said. “Anything can be done. This is America.”
But before he left the facility, Obama said that stories like the one at Linamar can only happen around the country with more political support.
“I’m doing what I can just through administrative action, but I need Congress to help. I need Congress to do their part. I need Congress to take up these initiatives because we’ve come too far and we’ve worked too hard to turn back now,” he said.