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In N.C., Obama Pushes For American Manufacturing

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

There's a long tradition of presidents traveling right after the State of the Union address. And the first stop usually says something about a president's priorities.

Yesterday, less than 12 hours after his speech to Congress, President Obama left Washington to visit a factory in North Carolina. It's part of his push for American manufacturing.

NPR's Ari Shapiro was on the trip.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Stratton Taylor worked at the same Volvo factory in Asheville for 13 years. Then the economy went bad and Volvo closed the plant.

STRATTON TAYLOR: And I lost my job shortly after learning me and my wife were expecting twins. As you can imagine, we were terrified. What would happen with our family?

SHAPIRO: Taylor told his story to a crowd awaiting the president on that factory floor that used to hold Volvo parts. Now the plant is crowded with hulking metal wheels and cranks for monster earth-moving machines, industrial trucks, and other heavy-duty vehicles.

Where Volvo moved out, a company called Linamar moved in. President Obama kicked off his post-State of the Union road show by praising Linamar's decision to in-source.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And 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.

(APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: The question is how to get other companies to do the same. The president's approach has several different elements. He wants to change the tax code to punish companies that send jobs overseas and reward the ones that move business to the U.S. He says the U.S. needs to keep extracting natural gas, so electricity stays cheap. And on education he says companies should work with schools to give students the right training.

Obama told the story of a guy named Jeff Brower, who went back to community college after he lost his trucking job.

OBAMA: 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.

SHAPIRO: Those opportunities are far too rare, says Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. He says there are 250,000 job openings in manufacturing right now. The challenge is finding people with the right training.

SCOTT PAUL: The infrastructure that once supported that in this country through vocational education has largely disappeared, and we're having to rebuild that.

SHAPIRO: Obama likes to say that half a million manufacturing jobs have been created in the last four years.

Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute says that's true, but the growth should have been much more robust.

ROBERT SCOTT: And when you step back and you look at the forest and not just a few trees, a few factories showing up, what you see is that year after year our imports of manufactured products have increased more rapidly than our exports.

SHAPIRO: So he says the biggest thing President Obama could do to boost American manufacturing would be to reduce trade barriers and stop countries like China from devaluing their currency.

But Obama didn't mention that in North Carolina at all. Many of the ideas the president wants Congress to pursue came up in his first term. For the most part, Republicans blocked them.

On the flight to North Carolina, White House spokesman Jay Carney explained why the president is still pushing.

JAY CARNEY: If you have the right proposal that has broad-based support, that is proven to be effective, you have to keep pushing it and fighting for it.

SHAPIRO: Obama has some new proposals too, like raising the minimum wage to nine dollars an hour.

OBAMA: Because if you want to work full time, you shouldn't be in poverty.

SHAPIRO: But Republicans in Congress seem no warmer to this new set of ideas than they were to President Obama's last set.

House Speaker John Boehner said the economy is not strong enough to raise the minimum wage.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: At a time when the American people are still asking the question where are the jobs, why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?

SHAPIRO: Just as in Obama's first term, both sides say they want to create jobs. But they seem to have no common ground on how to do it.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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