By Roberta Rampton
ASHEVILLE, N.C. Feb 13 President Barack Obama
visited a truck parts plant on Wednesday to highlight the role
of U.S. manufacturing in reviving the economy, and follow up on
his State of the Union message of strengthening the middle
"I believe in manufacturing," he said, standing before a
backdrop of massive parts made for 400-ton mining trucks. "It
makes our country strong."
Even though manufacturing makes up only roughly 12 percent
of the economy, the White House argues that those numbers do not
represent the importance of a sector that produces jobs that pay
well and creates economic benefits beyond individual factories.
"Manufacturing punches above its weight," National Economic
Council Chairman Gene Sperling said on Wednesday.
A day after his annual address to Congress in which he
argued that the economic recovery must focus on creating
opportunities for middle class workers, Obama hit the road for a
three-day tour to rally public support for his proposals.
The president said on Tuesday he would pursue policies that
would bring more jobs to the United States, train workers for
the demands of changing technology, and ensure that workers
could earn enough to escape poverty.
The Linamar Corp plant Obama visited is making
engine blocks and wheel axles for giant mining trucks, and is
emblematic of the type of manufacturing renaissance he hopes
will take place more broadly.
The Canadian company employs 150 people with a plan to
expand to 650 in coming years. Local officials attracted the
company after a Volvo manufacturing plant shut its doors here in
2010 and moved more than 200 jobs out of state.
The president signed a toolbox and asked machinists about
their work, stopping to inspect a gleaming silver hub.
Obama devoted a sizeable portion of his State of the Union
address to describing how he sees manufacturing as a linchpin
for expanding well-paying middle class jobs.
China has in the last few years eclipsed the United States
as the world's leading manufacturer. One reason is China's low
labor costs, and these have risen recently, making U.S.
factories more competitive.
Obama renewed his call on Wednesday to Congress to support a
plan to invest $1 billion in 15 manufacturing hubs across the
The president has said he would use executive powers to
launch the first three hubs, with the defense and energy
departments partnering with businesses, universities and
community colleges to invest in the training and development
He also proposed to lower taxes for manufacturers to 25
percent from the current level of 35 percent and offer tax
breaks, while putting in place a minimum "offshoring" tax.
Obama will face opposition in Congress for the plan from
Republicans, who believe government spending needs to be reined
in because of ballooning deficits.
WHAT ABOUT THE DEBT?
Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the U.S. Senate,
accused Obama of not paying enough attention in his speech to
reducing the federal debt and deficit, as sweeping public
spending cuts know as the "sequester" loom in the coming weeks.
"I'm especially disappointed he chose not to seriously
address the transcendent issue of our time, which is finding a
way to control our spiraling debt before it controls us," he
said on the Senate floor.
Critics from labor groups were also underwhelmed by Obama's
"I saw no mention of his campaign pledge to create one
million new manufacturing jobs," said Scott Paul, president of
the Alliance for American Manufacturing. which represents the
United Steelworkers union and some large manufacturers.
Wednesday's visit was Obama's fourth to the Asheville area
since he first ran for president in 2008. Most recently, he
started a bus tour in the community in October 2011 to try to
build public support for a jobs plan that Congress had rejected.
The attention showered on the town has been a great
promotion, said Hank Dunn, president of Asheville-Buncombe
Technical Community College, which has developed specialized
courses to help Linamar and other employers train workers.
But community colleges need government help to provide spots
for students and invest in their own infrastructure so they can
help train people to fill advanced manufacturing jobs, he said.
"We get a lot of love, and that's about it," Dunn said in an
interview in Washington, where he was meeting with lawmakers to
talk about community colleges. "You've got to follow it up with