State News

Obama: 'We are beginning to turn the corner'

Posted April 2, 2010 3:13 a.m. EDT
Updated April 2, 2010 5:48 p.m. EDT

— President Barack Obama told workers in Charlotte that the worst of the recession is in the past during a visit to Celgard LLC Friday.

"The truth is, these have been a very tough two years for North Carolina, and they've been a tough two years for the United States of America," he said.

"But today is an encouraging day."

The president cited a Labor Department report Friday that showed employers created 162,000 jobs in March, the biggest job gain since May 2007. The unemployment rate remained at 9.7 percent as more of the estimated 15 million unemployed Americans entered the job market.

North Carolina's unemployment rate stood at 11.2 percent in February, its highest since states started their current calculation method in 1976.

Obama toured Celgrad's plant where workers make separators for lithium-ion batteries and later joked while speaking to hundreds of workers.

"They're building separators to make sure diametrically opposed forces can work successfully together. I can't help to think we could use your help in Congress," he laughed.

Obama shared his administration's plans to create jobs such as those at Celgard and praised the company as an example of economic progress and job growth since he took office.

Bob Toth, CEO of Celgard's parent company Polypore International, Inc. (NYSE: PPO), said that grants from the economic stimulus program let the manufacturer hire 300 new workers and expand its operations in Charlotte and Concord.

"The tough measures that we took, measures that were necessary even though sometimes they were unpopular, have broken this slide and are helping us to climb out of this recession," Obama said, while speaking with workers at lunchtime.

In August, Celgard received a $49 million grant from stimulus funds to develop batteries for electric vehicles. North Carolina State University's College of Textiles is one of Celgard's three partners in that venture.

Alternative energy industries could produce more jobs in the coming decades if properly invested in now, and if that investment doesn't generate quick profit, the government will probably have to do it, Obama stressed in response to workers' questions about his clean energy policy.

He pointed to upgrading the electrical infrastructure as a necessary step to putting more electric and hybrid cars on the road. "That's an investment that only the government, with the help of the private sector, can do," he said.

Obama also took questions from workers about financial regulatory reform and the new health care overhaul.

Protesters, supporters greet president

Supporters and protesters lined Obama's route to and from the Charlotte airport. Some held up signs saying "Thank you" for the health care overhaul.

About 250 tea party activists and other protesters held up signs, waved American flags and shouted as the president's motorcade passes by. The signs read, "Stop spending," "Don't tread on me," "No to socialism" and simply "Nov. 2."

They focused more on the recent health care overhaul Obama signed into law than on his economic policies.

High Point businessman Larry Davidson said the health care overhaul will ruin what he called "the best health care system in the world."

"It's the end of health care as we know it," said Davidson, 59. "He just rammed it down everyone's throat. It was wrong. He didn't listen to the people."

Cardiologist Dr. James McGukin, 52, agreed.

"It's amazing what was done behind closed doors," McGukin said. "Many doctors are going to quit rather than deal with a socialist health care system. The changes are bad for doctors. Bad for the American people. This is socialism. Obama is not a leader; he's a dictator."

Craig Nannini, a leader of the Charlotte Tea Party, said the protest was an important way for people to show their opposition to Obama's policies.

"It's about the message, not the messenger," Nannini said. "He was fairly elected, and we respect the office he holds. What we want to do is show we are opposed to his politics."

He noted that this was the first protest for many in the crowd.

"Look at this. They are worried about their futures. That's why they're here. We're not going away. We're here to stay and we're going to make sure they hear our voices at the polls."

When he arrived at the airport, Obama was greeted by Gov. Bev Perdue, Mayor Anthony Foxx, Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., and N.C. Air National Guard commander Tony McMillan. Also present was Charlotte resident Teresa Gault, who has written to the president about the state of North Carolina's economy.

Former basketball Reggie Love, whose hometown in Charlotte, also flew into town with Obama. The basketball star got most of the attention from airport staffers, posing for pictures and signing autographs.