- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - President Barack Obama shined the spotlight Thursday on a Kentucky-based company to promote his plan to create more technology jobs, highlighting a quick visit to a state where recent elections have revolved around his policies and unpopularity among many voters.

In a visit pushed back several hours because of a breakthrough in the Iran nuclear talks, Obama toured and then spoke at Indatus, a Louisville technology company that he praised for its role in grooming young people for high-tech careers.

“That’s what smart training looks like - faster, cheaper, innovative - providing new pathways … for careers in tech,” Obama said.

Obama praised a Louisville initiative that partners local government, businesses and others to promote high-tech innovation. The Democratic president said the Republican-controlled Congress should invest in job training so more places can follow Kentucky’s example.

Obama toured the Louisville business, greeted workers and asked some of them how they came to work at Indatus. In his speech, he touted his Tech Hire program, which encourages employers, educational institutions and local governments to work together to train people for technology jobs.

The president singled out Indatus employee Ben Kuhl, a self-taught techie who is now a top-level software engineer despite having no college training. Obama cited Kuhl’s hiring and professional development as an example of how people can be recruited into the high-growth sector.

“That’s the idea here, is that there are a lot of different pathways that we create so that more and more people can get trained in the jobs of the future, and we’re not restricting ourselves to one narrow path,” the president said.

Kuhl, 29, who started at Indatus in early 2014, said he had no idea he was going to get the presidential nod.

“It was like: ‘Oh, wow. Is he seriously saying this on national television?’” he said later. “And then, ‘Oh, he is.’”

The audience for Obama’s speech included Gov. Steve Beshear, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. Obama thanked the mayor for giving him a Louisville Slugger bat and for a “really big suitcase” filled with Kentucky bourbon.

Several prominent Kentucky Democrats running for statewide office this year were absent from the presidential visit. Obama lost Kentucky by wide margins both times he was elected to the White House. State Attorney General Jack Conway, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, was among those who didn’t attend. Conway’s campaign said he was not invited and would be in eastern Kentucky on Thursday to discuss anti-drug initiatives.

Geoff Young, a little-known Democrat running against Conway in next month’s primary, stood outside Indatus with a sign welcoming Obama to Kentucky. Young, who didn’t attend the speech, chided Conway for being “too cowardly” to be seen shaking Obama’s hand at the event.

Obama has rarely visited Kentucky while in office, but he’s been a lightning rod in Kentucky politics.

Last year, Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes famously refused to say during her failed challenge of Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell whether she voted for Obama. McConnell, now the Senate majority leader, turned his re-election into a referendum on the president, focusing on the Obama administration’s stricter federal environment regulations on coal-fired power plants.

Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said Thursday those regulations have played a major role in the loss of more than 7,000 mining jobs in eastern Kentucky. Shrinking employment in the mines has spiraled into wider job losses in the region, he said.

“Having President Obama come to Louisville today and speak about jobs and the economy truly shows that he, his administration and its supporters have no idea of the devastation that they have caused in and beyond Kentucky’s coalfields,” Bissett said in a statement.

While the coal economy has struggled, Kentucky’s overall unemployment rate has plunged. Kentucky’s preliminary jobless rate in February was 5.2 percent, the state’s lowest rate since November 2004. When Obama took office in January 2009, Kentucky’s unemployment rate was 9.1 percent.

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