Local News

Obama promotes jobs bill at NC State

Posted September 14, 2011 5:26 a.m. EDT
Updated September 14, 2011 7:11 p.m. EDT

— President Barack Obama arrived in the Triangle Wednesday, stopping by a small business in Apex before making a speech at North Carolina State University to garner public support for his new jobs bill.

Obama said the $447 billion bill, which he sent to Congress on Monday, would put teachers back to work, help small businesses expand, rebuild crumbling infrastructure like Interstate 440 bridges in Raleigh and provide a financial break to struggling families.

"The American Jobs Act (is) a plan that does two things. It puts more people back to work, and it puts more money back into the pockets of working Americans," he told a screaming audience in Reynolds Coliseum that was estimated at about 9,300.

The centerpiece of the jobs bill is lower payroll taxes for individuals and businesses. Obama said tax cuts in the plan would mean $1,300 a year for the typical North Carolina family and $80,000 for businesses with 50 employees.

More than half of the plan is devoted to tax credits to encourage businesses to hire, including special provisions for hiring veterans or people who have been unemployed for more than six months. The president has proposed to offset the credits by raising taxes on large corporations and the wealthy.

About 170,000 North Carolina businesses would benefit from the payroll tax cut, he said. The bill also would provide jobs to 19,000 construction workers, and assistance to strapped school districts and local governments would save the jobs of about 13,000 teachers, police officers and firefighters, he said.

"We know that, if we want businesses to start here and stay here and hire here, we've got to be able to out-build and out-educate and out-innovate every country on Earth," he said. "We need to build an economy that lasts."

Reynolds Coliseum took on a pep rally-like atmosphere in the hours before the speech as the N.C. State marching band played and the crowd rocked to the rhythm.

Thousands of N.C. State students lined up Tuesday to get tickets to Obama's speech. Many said they see the speech as important for the 2012 election and the job searches they will undertake after graduation.

"I'm going to be looking for a job really soon – I'm a senior now – so I think (the jobs plan) is a good idea," Stewart Farley said.

"This is history for our school. It's the first time since (Ronald) Reagan that a sitting president has come to speak," Tayla Cunningham said.

Hundreds of non-students attended the speech as well, wanting to hear Obama's plans to help people looking for jobs.

"They are the ones who are being evicted ... who have been out of the job market for more than a year and have exhausted all possibilities of receiving funds from unemployment," Marie Hill said.

Erv Portman, a Democratic Wake County commissioner and former Cary town councilman, introduced Obama by saying that the jobs bill would provide small businesses like his Apex company an opportunity to expand.

"Our country needs just a little bit of help to get out of this recession," Portman said. "The time for talking has passed. We need to send a message to Congress: It is time to act."

Obama echoed Portman's frustration with gridlock on Capitol Hill, noting that some Republicans have said they won't support the jobs bill because it would give the president a victory he could point to in the 2012 election.

"Give me a win? Give me a break," an exasperated Obama said. "This isn't about me ... This isn't about positioning for the election. It's about giving the American people a win. It's about giving small-business owners and entrepreneurs a win. It's about giving students and working families a win."

He gave the students in the crowd a "homework assignment," asking them to pressure Congress to act on the bill and not wait 14 months until after the election to address the sluggish economy.

"We are not people who watch things happen. We make things happen. We're Americans," he said. "We are tougher than the hand we've been dealt."

Apex business hosts Obama

Obama landed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport shortly before 11 a.m., where he was greeted by Gov. Beverly Perdue, Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, Durham Mayor Bill Bell, Morrisville Mayor Jacquelyn Holcombe and Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt.

The visit is Obama's fifth as president, according to the White House.

He then headed to Apex to visit Portman's company, WestStar Precision, which makes specialized parts for aerospace and medical companies.

"The things that he’s proposing will help us make investment in equipment to put people to work," Portman said after the visit. "This is a high-tech game with high-tech jobs, and we really have to understand it. I think (Obama) gets it. I hope the rest of Congress will get it."

WestStar employs 24 people in Apex, including 10 that were hired this year, and has an operation in Costa Rica, which Portman said is necessary to compete globally.

"Since we opened our plant in Costa Rica, we built a new factory in North Carolina," he said. "We're looking at doubling our factory in North Carolina right now because we are a more competitive company and we are able to compete on a global basis."

Outside the plant, a small group of protesters held signs saying "Let me keep my job" and "Protect Small Business – Save the jobs that we created."

Obama and Perdue toured the factory for 15 minutes, and the president talked with some workers who were making airplane parts, including tray tables.

"It's pretty incredible. It doesn't matter if you agree with him or no, he's the president. Having him shake your hand is a pretty cool experience," employee Jay Watson said.

Barry Blackman, who has worked for WestStar for 15 years, called the president's visit "a once-in-a-lifetime thing." He said he hopes Obama and Congress can reach a compromise that will boost the U.S. economy.

"They're not trying to back each other to get through what we need to get through to make the U.S. a viable manufacturing industry again, because a lot of our jobs have gone overseas," said Blackman, 47, of Princeton.

At the same time, he said, he's concerned about the deficit. He said his children range in age from 9 to 26, and he worries about them having to pay off the debt the government has run up in recent years.

"What are we going to leave our kids in years to come?" he said.