Elkhart, Ind., has many, many stories to tell.
There are stories about lost jobs and economic hardship. There are stories of people and businesses seeking to transform themselves to meet the needs of a fast-changing world
In many ways — largely thanks to visits to the region by President Barack Obama and the accompanying national media — the northern Indiana city famous for RVs and manufactured housing has become the face of the current recession, according to the Indianapolis Star.
While Elkhart is heavily reliant on the RV and housing industries, the challenges of the current economy ripple throughout the community. Elkhart County’s high unemployment rate, 16.8% in June, has actually been showing some improvement since the dark days of winter, when the rate reached around 19%.
That sort of economic stress has businesses of all sorts trying new things.
Elkhart-based Coachmen Industries’ All American Homes unit constructed a “Living Zero Home” for the U.S. Department of Energy. The demo home is on a national tour to highlight ways people can save on utility bills and energy usage.
“The actual home design that inspired the Living Zero model will be introduced through our builder network and our company-owned retail centers in mid-August,” Coachmen CEO Richard Lavers wrote in a July 30 update to shareholders.
Such initiatives could pay dividends in the years to come. The need for such new initiatives is urgent. The company’s revenue of just over $29 million for the first six months of 2009 is down a whopping 58% from the same time a year ago.
The Elkhart Truth, as the local newspaper, is well placed to tell all of those stories of hardship and hope. But the news media industry itself has been in a state of turmoil as it confronts an advertising slump and many new forms of competition from the Internet.
The Truth, however, has found itself working with MSNBC.com as part of the Internet news provider’s ongoing initiative called “The Elkhart Project.”
The project (which can be found at elkhartproject.com) includes stories, photos, videos, a blog and links to social media sites Twitter and Facebook — all of the content dedicated toward telling Elkhart’s story.
“It’s energized the entire newsroom,” said Greg Halling, managing editor of The Truth. “It’s just transformed us in any number of ways.”
“We’ve been a lot more aggressive about developing our website. . . . On a good day, we’re cranking out a lot more stuff during the course of the day than we ever did before.”
He said his staff has gained valuable experience from working with MSNBC.com’s veteran journalists in contributing content to the site.
Mike Brunker, projects editor for MSNBC.com, said there was some criticism in the early days of the project that the site was painting too dark a picture of Elkhart. But he added that working with local journalists has helped provided deeper coverage.
Halling said page views on eTruth.com, the paper’s website, have been consistently higher since the start of the collaboration roughly six months ago.
Plenty of challenges remain for Elkhart, as they do for the rest of the nation. But transformations of businesses and communities can happen.
And that’s one heck of a story.
Nerves took hold of Herman Wiley minutes before he was to take the stage in front of hundreds of co-workers, politicians and members of the national media on Wednesday (Aug. 5) in Wakarusa, Ind.
But then President Barack Obama took Wiley under his wing and helped calm those nerves, according to the South Bend Tribune.
“He took me backstage and told me everything would be all right,” Wiley said. “I took a deep breath and went out there.”
In a confident voice, Wiley told his story to those gathered in front of him – about how he worked in the recreational vehicle business for 32 years at the former Monaco Coach Corp., was recently laid off temporarily while trying to support his two children, and then how he was rehired in June at Monaco RV.
“I have great faith the economy will turn around,” he told the crowd.
He then introduced the president and shook his hand as Obama made his entrance Wednesday at Monaco RV to thunderous applause from the nearly 200 Monaco employees there.
After the news conference, Wiley spoke about his once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“It felt really good,” said Wiley, 54, of Elkhart. “I was proud to do this. It was beyond anything you could imagine.”
Wiley’s story is not unique.
In fact, just about every Monaco employee there had two things in common: They are currently employed but had recently been laid off. Most of them lost their jobs sometime between July 2008 – when 1,400 workers were cut – and March.
Some 400 employees have been brought back since Navistar International Corp. bought the company out of bankruptcy and renamed it Monaco RV.
The news that Navistar would receive $39 million in grants to develop batteries and electric vehicles was a sign their company may be on the right track to stability. The money will be spent to build electric trucks with the ability to go 100 miles.
“Hopefully, we can get going and get back the money we were making a few years ago,” said Laura Collins, who makes the commute to Wakarusa from Logansport.
Collins said she took a $5 or $6 an hour pay cut when she returned but said the work is worth it.
“It’s an industry that once you start working, it’s hard to stop,” she added.
Randy Trotter, of Bristol, Brandon Boisvart, of North Manchester, and Jeff Compton, of Warsaw, stood shoulder to shoulder as they talked about what the grant will do. They, too, were all temporarily laid off when the Monaco plant in Warsaw closed but now are happy to report to Wakarusa daily.
They say the stimulus money is helping them get back to work and secure their jobs.
“It was a struggle, struggle, struggle before we got called back,” Trotter said.
“Yeah, this really got us back to work,” Compton added.
“And hopefully will keep us there,” Boisvart said.
Rich Esterlie, of Elkhart, was laid off a year and a half ago and struggled to find a job before he was called back.
“There already is a hybrid, now we’re getting involved with an electric line of trucks,” he said. “I definitely think this will help the business.”
Henry Kaiser was more skeptical, adding he hopes more jobs are added, but he said he’s not certain the money will help.
Josh Walters was riding around Wakarusa on his Harley-Davidson shortly after the news conference when he stopped to talk about the grant.
“I think it’s a great thing as long as (Obama) sticks to what he says,” Walters said. “What’s iffy is having the electric vehicles go for 100 miles. They’ll have to improve on that, but it’s a starting point.”
Walters said he worked as a repo man after he was cut from Monaco.
“That’s when I got to see the other side of the economy,” he said. “I understand what people go through.”
Editor’s Note: This column was written by veteran Hoosier writer Brian Howey following President Obama’s visit to Elkhart County, Ind. The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com.
If there is an American city that will be chiseled into President Barack Obama’s legacy – whatever it turns out to be – it will be Elkhart. Of the 52 visits Obama has made to Indiana since March 2008, four of them have come in or close to this epicenter of the recreational vehicle industry.
During the presidential campaign, he vowed not to “forget” the city and county that was hit by $4.20 a gallon gas, a collapse of Wall Street credit and then the cascading bad news from companies like Monaco, Jayco and Keystone. By the time Obama returned on Feb. 9, the jobless rate was more than 15% – or a 10% increase, which he described as “astonishing.” In making his pitch for a $780 billion stimulus package, Obama told an overflow crowd at Concord High School, “I promised you back then that if elected, I’d do everything I could to help this community recover and that’s why I came back today, because I intend to keep my promise.”
Earlier visits gave clear indicators to what Obama had in mind. In the same gym on Aug. 6, 2008, candidate Obama reminded the city and nation that this energy dilemma was 30 years in the making. The gas lines of 1979 caused by the Iranian revolution plunged Elkhart into a near depression that peaked in 1982. “Elkhart, this did not happen by accident,” Obama said. “We’ve had a real energy problem with no real solutions. We didn’t have an energy plan, we had an oil company plan. We offered gimmicks, rather than solutions.”
And his Aug. 6, 2008, solutions?
Obama vowed to wean the U.S. off Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil within a decade. He vowed to charge scientists and engineers to “get behind a new approach to energy,” create more electric hybrid cars and RVs and expand the electric grid. He summoned the legacy of President Kennedy, who vowed to put an American on the moon “even though the technology didn’t exist” at the time and added, “We can set those kinds of goals today.”
On Feb. 9, 2009, President Obama described the stimulus plan that would pass eight days later in point No. 2: “There is money allocated in this plan to develop the new battery technologies that will allow not just cars but potentially RVs as well to be — to move into the next generation of plug-in hybrids that get much better gas mileage, that will wean ourselves off dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and will improve our environment and lessen the potential effects of greenhouse gases and climate change.”
Thus, the stage was set for Wednesday, when Obama ventured just south of Elkhart to the embattled town of Wakarusa, the scene of what he described as “the perfect storm.” The jobless rate here is 16%. Appearing at a Monaco RV plant – whose closing was a precursor to the emphatic pain that would follow – Obama brought home the bacon and provided a beacon. He announced $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funding for advanced battery and electric vehicle manufacturing at Wakarusa, with seven emerging Indiana companies and 11 in Michigan making the cut.
“The battle for America’s future will be fought in Elkhart, Detroit, Goshen, Pittsburgh, South Bend and Youngstown,” Obama said. “It will be won by making places like Elkhart what they once were.”
In announcing the $2.4 billion in grants – which he described as the “The largest boost in research in history” – Obama described his plan as “planting the seeds of progress and good paying jobs. That’s what we do best in America: We turn ideas into inventions and inventions into industries.”
With money coming to EnerDel and Allison Transmission in Indianapolis, Delphi in Kokomo, Magna in Muncie and Remy in Anderson, Obama explained, “For too long we failed to invest in this kind of innovative work, even as China and Japan were racing ahead. I’m committed to a strategy where American leads. This is about creating the infrastructure of innovation. Indiana is the second largest recipient of grant money.”
Obama said that the state – home to Purdue, Notre Dame, Indiana universities and IVY Tech – will be a place where engineers are educated and innovation will thrive. He reminded people that he has made the research and development tax credit permanent. “This tax credit returns $2 to the economy for every $1 spent. The real innovation depends not on government, but the potential of the American people,” Obama said. “They’ll figure out how to do it.”
Standing in the Monaco plant, Obama said, “Just a few months ago folks thought these factories were closed for good. These grants will create tens of thousands of jobs all across America.”
He added, “I don’t want to import a hybrid truck, I want to build a hybrid truck right here. I want to build a windmill right here in Indiana.”
Say what you want about our 44th president, but what is unmistakable is that he is staking the success of his presidency here in Indiana, even as rival politicians criticize his rescue of Chrysler and General Motors, his cap-and-trade plans, the health care reforms he calls vital to the economy, and the stimulus.
Elkhart becomes the common thread that bridges the crisis of 2008 to an unfolding future.
President Obama on Wednesday (Aug. 5) said $2.4 billion in federal grants for next-generation, fuel-efficient vehicles will create or retain thousands of jobs in Indiana and lay a foundation for the economy of the future.
In a cavernous Monaco Coach recreational vehicle assembly plant now owned by Navistar International Corp., the president told a crowd of 250 enthusiastic workers that $39 million of the grants would go to build 400 of the vehicles at their company, according to the Northwest Indiana Times.
“We have to harness the innovative and creative spirit that’s waiting to be awakened all across America,” Obama said.
Other Indiana companies winning the competitive grants are Allison Transmission, in Indianapolis; Delphi, in Kokomo; and Magna, in Muncie. In addition, Purdue University, the University of Notre Dame, Ivy Tech Community College and Indiana University will receive grants to develop electric vehicles.
Indiana will receive more of the $2.4 billion than any state but one, Michigan, Obama said.
More than 1,000 people worked at the sprawling Monaco Coach complex before all production was shut down last year. Monaco Coach was bought out of bankruptcy by Navistar International in June.
Unemployment started to soar in Elkhart County early last year as its recreational vehicle industry crumbled in the face of the national recession and high gasoline prices. It hit a high of 18.8% in March.
Navistar CEO Daniel Ustian spoke before Obama, noting his company is more than 150 years old and once had its new technology protected by a lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. The company is now a leader in the production of green diesel trucks and plans to be a leader in production of electric vehicles, Ustian said.
“We have a common goal with the president,” Ustian said. “We want to grow our company and grow jobs and grow our economy.”
The president also appeared to have the goal of answering his critics and breathing new life into some of his initiatives.
“There are those in Washington who focus on the ups and downs of politics,” Obama said. “I’m focused on the ups and downs of the American people.”
In addition to the announcement that the many of the grants for electric vehicles would flow to Wakarusa and other Indiana communities, the president launched into a defense of his stimulus program, education initiatives and most particularly, his drive to reform American health care.
“We will push health reform to the end of this year because the American people need it,” Obama said.
At the end of his talk, the president worked the edges of the seats, shaking hands and exchanging words with workers like Robert Stevens, 34.
“Anything new is good,” Stevens said afterward. “Especially if it’s a new, fuel-efficient vehicle.”
Editor’s Note: Following is the official White House transcript of President Obama’s remarks on Wednesday (Aug. 5) in Wakarusa, Ind.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Well, it is wonderful to be in Wakarusa. Thank you so much for the wonderful welcome. Herman, thanks for the great introduction. It is great to be back in Indiana. (Applause.) This is as close as I’ve gotten to home in a while. (Laughter.)
And I flew out here with somebody who I think the people of Indiana have known for a long time, have trusted for a long time because he’s fighting for working families in Indiana each and every day — and that is our great senator, Evan Bayh. Please give Evan a big round of applause. (Applause.)
And it’s nice to get out of Washington and spend some time with people who actually sent me to Washington. (Applause.) Too often, there are those in Washington who focus on the ups and downs of politics. But my concern is the ups and downs in the lives of the American people: the families feeling the pain of this recession; the folks I’ve met across this country who’ve lost jobs and savings and health insurance, but haven’t lost hope; the men and women who still believe in the capacity, the ability of this nation to meet the challenges of our times.
Now, these are challenges you know all too well here in Wakarusa and in Elkhart County. This area has been hit with a perfect storm of economic troubles. Over the last few decades, you’ve borne the brunt of a steadily weakening of American manufacturing in the face of global competition. You’ve felt the impact of the struggles of American auto industry and the repercussions that have hit the Midwest especially hard. And you’re living every day with the consequences of this recession and the financial meltdown, and you’ve felt it in the form of lost jobs and lost savings.
So as a result, the Elkhart area has experienced the second greatest increase in the rate of unemployment in the country — up 10 points in a year. It’s an astonishing statistic. And there have been times where nearly one in five people in this area have been looking for work. You’ve seen factories close, and your sons and daughters move away in searches of jobs and opportunity. So this is more than an economic crisis. This goes to the heart and soul of a community. It tests the strength of families and the spirit of good people — hardworking folks who’ve given their all to a company and now don’t know where to turn.
There are some who see what’s taking place here and suggest that it’s all somehow inevitable, and that the only way for America to get ahead is for places like Elkhart to be left behind. You hear that argument sometime in Washington. But I know and you know that the truth is exactly the opposite. I’m here because I believe our ability to recover — and to prosper — as a nation depends on what happens in communities just like this one. (Applause.)
The battle for America’s future will be fought and won in places like Elkhart and Detroit, Goshen and Pittsburgh, South Bend, Youngstown — in cities and towns across Indiana and across the Midwest and across the country that have been the backbone of America. It will be won by making places like Elkhart what they once were and can be again — and that’s centers of innovation and entrepreneurship and ingenuity and opportunity; the bustling, whirring, humming engines of American prosperity.
For as the world grows more competitive, we can’t afford to run the race at half-strength or half-speed. If we hope to lead this century like we did the last century, we have to create the conditions and the opportunities for places like Elkhart to succeed. We have to harness the potential — the innovative and creative spirit — that’s waiting to be awakened all across America. That’s how we’ll rebuild this economy stronger than before: strong enough to compete in the global economy; strong enough to avoid the cycles of boom and bust that have wreaked so much havoc on our economy; strong enough to support the jobs of the 21st century; and strong enough to unleash prosperity for everybody, not just some.
But before we can rebuild our economy for tomorrow, we have to rescue it today. Now, that’s why we passed a Recovery Act less than one month after I took office — and we did so without any of the earmarks or pork-barrel spending that’s so common in Washington, D.C. And let me just talk about the so-called stimulus package, or the Recovery Act, because there’s been a lot of misinformation out there about the Recovery Act. Let me tell you what it is and what it’s not.
‘The plan was divided into three parts. One-third of the money has gone to tax relief for families and small businesses. One-third of the money is cutting people’s taxes. For Americans struggling to pay rising bills with shrinking wages, we kept a campaign promise to put a middle-class tax cut in the pockets of 95 percent of working families — (Applause) — a tax cut that began showing up in paychecks of 4.8 million Indiana households about three months ago.
We also cut taxes for small businesses on the investments that they make. And more than 425 small businesses in Indiana have received SBA loans through the recovery package. So that’s — one-third of the money was tax cuts.
Another third of the money in the Recovery Act has been for emergency relief that is helping folks who’ve borne the brunt of this recession. For Americans who were laid off, we expanded unemployment benefits — and that’s already made a difference for 12 million Americans, including 220,000 folks right here in Indiana. We’re making health insurance 65% cheaper for families relying on COBRA while looking for work. Some of you know people who lost their jobs, were worried about losing their health care, couldn’t afford COBRA — we were able to reduce their costs by 65 percent so they could keep their health care while they looking for jobs.
And for states facing historic budget shortfalls, we provided assistance that has saved the jobs of tens of thousands of teachers and public — and police officers and other public servants so that you wouldn’t see the recession get even worse.
So that’s the second half. First half, tax relief. Second half, support for individuals, small businesses, and states that had fallen on hard times.
The last third of the Recovery Act — and that’s what we’re going to talk about here today — is for investments that are not only putting people back to work in the short term, but laying a new foundation for growth and prosperity in the long run. These are the jobs of building the future of America: upgrading our roads and our bridges; renovating schools and hospitals. The Elkhart area has seen the benefits: Dozens were employed to resurface the runway at Elkhart Airport; a four-mile stretch of highway is being upgraded on US-33; the Heart City Health Center has received recovery dollars to expand services and hire additional staff.
And as part of the recovery plan, we’re making a historic commitment to innovation. The Recovery Act creates jobs doubling our capacity to generate renewable energy; building a new smart grid that carry electricity from coast to coast; laying down broadband lines and high-speed rail lines; and providing the largest boost in basic research in history — to ensure that America leads in the breakthrough discoveries of the new century, just as we led in the last. Because that’s what we do best in America — we turn ideas into inventions, and inventions into industries.
Now, history should be our guide. The United States led the world’s economies in the 20th century because we led the world in innovation. Today, the competition is keener; the challenge is tougher; and that’s why innovation is more important than ever. That’s the key to good, new jobs in the 21st century. That’s how we will ensure a high quality of life for this generation and future generations. With these investments, we’re planting the seeds of progress for our country, and good-paying, private-sector jobs for the American people.
So that’s why I’m here today — to announce $2.4 billion in highly competitive grants to develop the next generation of fuel-efficient cars and trucks powered by the next generation of battery technologies all made right here in the U.S. of A. (Applause.) Right here in America. (Applause.) Made in America. (Applause.)
For too long, we failed to invest in this kind of innovative work, even as countries like China and Japan were racing ahead. That’s why this announcement is so important: This represents the largest investment in this kind of technology in American history.
See, I’m committed to a strategy that ensures America leads in the design and the deployment of the next generation of clean-energy vehicles. This is not just an investment to produce vehicles today; this is an investment in our capacity to develop new technologies tomorrow. This is about creating the infrastructure of innovation.
Indiana is the second largest recipient of grant funding, and it’s a perfect example of what this will mean. You’ve got Purdue University, Notre Dame, Indiana University, and Ivy Tech, and they’re all going to be receiving grant funding to develop degree and training programs for electric vehicles. That’s number one. (Applause.) We’ve got EnerDel, a small business in Indianapolis that will develop batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles. You’ve got Allison Transmission in Indianapolis, Delphi in Kokomo, Remy in Pendleton, and Magna located in Muncie, all who will help develop electric-drive components for commercial and passenger vehicles.
And right here in Elkhart County, Navistar — which has taken over two Monaco Coach manufacturing facilities — will receive a $39 million grant to build 400 advanced battery electric trucks — (applause) — with a range of a hundred miles, like the trucks here today. (Applause.) Just a few months ago, folks thought that these factories might be closed for good. But now they’re coming back to life.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you!
THE PRESIDENT: You’re welcome. (Laughter.) Thank the American people. (Applause.)
The company estimates that this investment will help create or save hundreds of jobs in the area. And already, folks like Herman are being rehired. So, overall, the companies believe these investments in battery technology will save or create thousands of Hoosier jobs. And I want to point out these thousands of jobs wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the leaders in Congress who supported the Recovery Act — leaders like Evan Bayh and Joe Donnelly, who’s here today. (Applause.) And Andre Carson and Brad Ellsworth and Peter Visclosky. (Applause.) And these grants will create tens of thousands of jobs all across America.
In fact, today, Vice President Biden is announcing grant winners in Michigan. Members of my Cabinet are fanning out across the country announcing recipients elsewhere. We’re providing the incentives to those businesses — large and small — that stand ready to help us lead a new clean-energy economy by developing new technologies for new kinds of vehicles.
See, I don’t want to just reduce our dependence on foreign oil and then end up being dependent on their foreign innovations. I don’t want to have to import a hybrid car — I want to be able to build a hybrid car here. (Applause.) I don’t want to have to import a hybrid truck — I want to build a hybrid truck here. (Applause.) I don’t want to have to import a windmill from someplace else — I want to build a windmill right here in Indiana. (Applause.) I want the cars of the future and the technologies that power them to be developed and deployed right here, in America.
And that’s just the beginning. In no area will innovation be more important than in the development of new ways to produce, use, and save energy. So we’re not only doubling our capacity to generate renewable energy and building a stronger and smarter electric grid. We’ve helped reach an agreement to raise fuel economy standards. And for the first time in history, we passed a bill to create a system of clean energy incentives which will help make renewable energy the profitable kind of energy in America — while helping to end our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet for future generations.
The bill passed the House; we’re now working to pass legislation through the Senate. Because we know that real innovation depends not on government, but on the generative potential of the American people. If the American people get a clear set of rules, if they know what’s needed, what challenges we’ve got to meet, they’ll figure out how to do it.
In fact, that’s why our budget makes the research and experimentation tax credit permanent — the R&D tax credit. This is a tax credit that helps companies afford what are sometimes very high costs in developing new ideas and new technologies and new products — and that means new jobs. This tax credit returns $2 to the economy for every $1 we spend. And for a long time we were just trying to renew it once every year, and companies didn’t know whether or not they were going to be able to get it for the next year. That’s changed. We’ve now made it permanent.
I’ve also proposed reducing to zero the capital gains tax for investments in small or startup businesses. Because small businesses are innovative businesses; small businesses produce 13 times more patents per employee than large companies.
Of course, in order to lead in the global economy and ensure that our businesses can grow and innovate, we also have to pass health insurance reform that brings down costs. (Applause.) Reform that brings down costs and provides more security for folks who have insurance, and affordable options for those who don’t. I promise you: We will pass reform by the end of this year because the American people need it. (Applause.) The American people need some relief. (Applause.) We’re going to have to make it happen.
In fact, the recovery plan began the process of reform by modernizing our health care infrastructure. We took some long-overdue step of computerizing America’s health records, which can reduce all the waste and errors that cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives — while protecting patients’ privacy. It’s important also to know that these records hold the potential of offering patients the chance to be more active participants in the prevention and treatment of illnesses. You won’t have to fill out the same form a dozen times. You won’t have to rely on your memory when talking to your doctor about your medical history. All those things make people healthier, but they also reduce your costs, lower your premiums, give you more security in your health care.
Now, in addition to energy, and in addition to health care, we also know that the nation that out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow. So we’re making a historic commitment to strengthening and improving education, from cradle through career. Right now, our schools continue to trail many of our competitors. And that’s why I’ve challenged states to dramatically improve achievement by raising standards and modernizing science labs, upgrading curriculum, forming new partnerships to promote math and science, and improving the use of technology in the classroom.
And I’ve set this goal: In the next decade — by 2020 — America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. (Applause.) We used to be number one. We will be number one again when it comes to college graduates. (Applause.)
Now, to reach this goal, we’ve provided tax credits and grants to make college education more affordable and we’ve made a historic commitment to community colleges, which are the unsung heroes in America’s education system. America can and must have the best-educated, highest-skilled workforce in the world — because if we’re building new cars here in America, if we’re building a new clean-energy grid in America, then we’re also going to need to build engineers in America, and scientists in America, and skilled technicians right here in America. So all these pieces end up fitting together.
Energy and innovation, health care and education — these are the pillars of the new foundation that we have to build. This is how we won’t just rescue the economy, but we’re going to rebuild it stronger than before.
Now, there are a lot of people out there those who are looking to defend the status quo. There are those who want to seek political advantage. They want to oppose these efforts. Some of them caused the problems that we got now in the first place, and then suddenly they’re blaming other folks for it. (Applause.) They don’t want to be constructive. They don’t want to be constructive; they just want to get in the usual political fights back and forth. And sometimes that’s fed by all the cable chatter on the media.
But you and I know the truth. We know that even in the hardest times, against the toughest odds, we have never surrendered. We don’t give up. We don’t surrender our fates to chance. We have always endured. We have worked hard, and we have fought for our future. Our parents had to fight for their future; our grandparents had to fight for their future. That’s the tradition of America. This country wasn’t built just by griping and complaining. It was built by hard work and taking risks. (Applause.) And that’s what we have to do today.
So I know these are tough times. If you haven’t lost a job, you know somebody who has — maybe a family member, a neighbor, a friend. You know that as difficult as the financial struggle can be, the sense of loss when you lose your job is about more than just a paycheck. We as Americans, we define ourselves by the work we do. It’s a source of pride; a sense that you’re contributing, that you’re supporting your family, that you’re doing the right thing, that you’re responsible. And the truth is, it can be easy to lose hope, especially when you see a lot of folks out there who failed to meet their responsibilities — from Wall Street to Washington. It can be easy to grow cynical when you see politicians say one thing and then do another, or say one thing and then do nothing; when you’ve seen decades of broken promises and broken politics.
But this is a rare moment in which we’re called upon to rise above the failures of the past. This is a chance to restore that spirit of optimism and opportunity which has always been central to our success. We’ve got to set our sights higher, not lower. We’ve got to imagine a future in which new American cars are powered by new American innovation; a future in which cities that led the global economy before are leading it again; a brighter future for Elkhart, a brighter future for Indiana, and for the United States of America. (Applause.)
That’s what we’re fighting for. That’s what this plant is about. That’s what you’re about. That’s what we’re going to achieve in the weeks and months to come. (Applause.)
So thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)
He keeps coming back to northern Indiana, as if magnetically drawn to some ore of truth there.
For the fourth time in 15 months, President Obama will arrive in this blue-collar manufacturing area –this time the town of Wakarusa — to sample the mood of the heartland and bring a message of change. He returns today (Aug. 5) to a community that has been as hard hit as any in this recession, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Each time he comes here, I keep thinking things must get better,” said Rosalie Collins, 43, an unemployed recreational vehicle worker, as she waited in line at a local unemployment office.
Elkhart encapsulates a key part of the country’s industrial downturn. Unlike the great Midwestern auto towns that are locked with a single industry, the region occupies a slice of industrial America that encompasses a range of manufacturers from musical instruments to high-tech engines.
It is a place that Obama has also found attractive. Elkhart, locals say, is in a traditionally conservative region that has shown a willingness to tilt Democratic. The county backed Sen. John McCain in the last presidential election, but the state went to Obama.
The visit fits a pattern of high-level White House trips to states that are historic presidential battlegrounds. Obama is looking to hold the state in 2012 – and so Indiana is receiving a disproportionate share of his travel time.
Salvation won’t come soon enough for the nearly 16,000 people in a county of less than 200,000 who currently don’t have a job. More than 45% of the businesses in the area are in manufacturing, and one-quarter of those are tied to the RV industry. More than a dozen factories have shut down in the past 12 months.
People here say they have begun to see a slight turn in their world, small improvements and some hiring that hint that the worst may be over. But after so many months of grim news, they are still worried.
“We’ve all been scraping the bottom, and there’s not much left to scrape,” said Loren Begly Sr., 78, a retired truck driver whose six children have all had trouble either finding or keeping full-time work.
Since the late 1800s, when shops building medical products and brass machine fittings crowded along the rail line, the area’s backbone has been its diverse industries.
The region has grown accustomed to economic roller coasters.
It survived after many jobs making musical instruments were moved overseas. It bounced back after gas prices eased and interest in RVs resumed in the 1980s.
It recovered after the Miles Laboratories plant, where Alka-Seltzer and Flintstone vitamins were made, closed its doors in 2001.
“It’s a national icon for economic cyclicality,” said Ken Rosen, chair of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business.
The latest cycle is about the worst it has ever been.
No one here could have imagined such hardship was coming when then-Sen. Barack Obama first stopped here in early May of last year in his campaign for the presidency.
When Obama returned that August, he was leading in the polls, and factories across this northern stretch of Indiana were shedding jobs. People were so eager to hear what Obama had to say, they arrived 12 hours early to wait outside of Concord High School.
When Obama came for a third stop in February, he came as a president trying to put a human face on why the country needed to support his $787 billion stimulus package.
Collins had lost her job by then and was scared. Gas prices had soared. Credit had dried up. Unemployment in the city of Elkhart had skyrocketed to 18 percent.
In the months since, the area has poured its resources into searching for the next manufacturer to bring new jobs.
The area has banked on help from the president’s stimulus plan. The county has attracted its share — $38 million approved so far. Of that, the city of Elkhart has had $14 million approved.
Now, there are hints of recovery. Seven area manufacturing companies, ranging from auto-insulation parts and an office-chair maker to RV manufacturers, have announced plans to expand.
On Tuesday, Dometic Corp. said it would put more than 240 people back to work in Elkhart, when it moves a manufacturing here from a factory in Sweden.
Obama is scheduled to speak today at the shuttered Monaco RV plant in Wakarusa.
He will use the trip to announce grants for advanced battery and electric-vehicle production, according to the White House. He’ll also talk about what’s needed to build conditions for sustained growth.
President Obama said today (April 30) that the Small Business Administration (SBA) on Friday will announce “expanding eligibility” for loans to automotive suppliers and dealers, including “RV dealers.”
In a noontime speech while commenting on Chrysler Corp.’s impending bankruptcy, Obama said the federal government will provide independent finance company GMAC with the capital to supply retail and floorplan loans to Chrysler dealers and others.
“We will be providing additional capital to GMAC to help unlock our frozen credit markets and free up lending so that consumers can get auto loans and dealers can finance their inventories; a measure that will help stabilize not only the auto market, but the broader economy, as well,” the president said. “And tomorrow, the Small Business Administration will be announcing it is expanding eligibility for some loans to include more supplier and dealers, including RV dealers.”
The Associated Press reported that the president struck a populist tone during the speech while criticizing “a group of investment firms and hedge funds (who) decided to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout” for Chrysler Corp.
“They were hoping that everybody else would make sacrifices, and they would have to make none,” he said. “Some demanded twice what they were getting. I don’t stand with them.
“I stand with Chrysler’s employees and their families and communities. I stand with Chrysler’s management, its dealers and the millions of Americans who own and want to buy Chrysler cars. I don’t stand with those who held out when everybody else is making sacrifices.”