HOLLAND, Mich. -- President Obama on Thursday said the United States can recoup lost manufacturing jobs by embracing advanced energy technologies such as the new electric battery plant breaking ground here, one day after the White House said its policies have saved or created up to 3.6 million jobs.
Mr. Obama heralded the government's role in helping Compact Power Inc. pay for the new facility with a $151 million stimulus grant, holding it up as an example of how public-private partnerships can help create new industries in the country.
"These aren't just any jobs. These are jobs in the industries of the future," said Mr. Obama, speaking at a muddy and sprawling construction site dotted by backhoes. "For years you've heard about manufacturing jobs disappearing overseas. You are leading the way in showing how manufacturing jobs are coming right back here to the United States of America."
Compact Power is the final of nine advanced battery plants opening in the United States thanks to $2.4 billion in stimulus funds devoted to battery and electric vehicles. The company, an American subsidiary of Korean giant LG Chem Ltd., received the stimulus money last August and matched it with company funds.
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat who appeared alongside Mr. Obama on Thursday, said the plant will create 400 jobs. Economists, she said, expect advanced battery manufacturing to create 62,000 jobs in the state over the next decade.
"Our goal is to transform Michigan from the Rust Belt to the green belt," she told the audience in this western Michigan town 25 miles south of Grand Rapids.
Mr. Obama repeatedly has plugged electric batteries not only as a key to new manufacturing jobs but also as an integral part of any clean-energy strategy. And government, through public-private partnerships, can help spur those clean-energy initiatives, he said.
"Government cannot generate the jobs or growth we need by itself," he said. "But what government can do is to lay the foundation for small businesses to expand and hire, for entrepreneurs to open up shop and test new products, for workers to get the training they need for the jobs of the 21st century, for families to achieve some measure of economic security."
Some have questioned the near-term consumer demand for electric-powered vehicles. But the White House cited industry studies predicting as many as 3.7 million will be produced globally by 2015 -- 40 percent of which will rely on batteries made in the United States, according to federal estimates. Compact Power recently inked deals to produce batteries for the Chevy Volt and the Ford Focus.
Michigan has suffered as the U.S. auto industry tanked: Statewide unemployment is more than 3 percent above the national average -- in June, economists measured it at 13.2 percent.
In an Op-Ed article in the Detroit News on Thursday, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said such figures make Mr. Obama's message a tough sell.
"When President Barack Obama speaks in Holland today, I hope that instead of trying to convince the people of a city suffering from 11.8 percent unemployment that our economy is 'moving forward,' he will listen closely when they ask, 'Where are the jobs?'" Mr. Boehner wrote.
The visit to Michigan marks Mr. Obama's fifth road trip as a part of the administration's "Recovery Summer" campaign, which aims to rehabilitate the public's troubled image of the $862 billion stimulus act passed by Congress last year. He and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., along with other administration officials, have traversed the country touting the nearly 11,000 road projects that are under way as proof the economy is on the road to recovery.
In a Wednesday report, Mr. Obama's Council of Economic Advisers said the package had saved or created up to 3.6 million jobs, causing the economy to expand by up to 3.2 percent. But the public isn't buying it, according to polls that show most Americans don't believe the stimulus has improved the economy.
A recent Rasmussen poll measured those who support it at 29 percent -- compared with 43 percent who said the bill hurt the economy -- while a CBS survey out this week pegged the number who think the stimulus helped at 23 percent, compared with 18 percent who said it made things worse, and a majority, 56 percent, who said it had no impact.
Indeed, most polls show voters are increasingly skeptical of the skyrocketing federal deficit, making it all the tougher for Mr. Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill to finagle extra spending through Congress. While the House has approved an extension of unemployment benefits, the effort has stalled in the upper chamber, where conservative Democrats have joined Republicans in their uneasiness to add to the federal tab.
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