President Obama used a stop at a manufacturing factory in Milwaukee on Wednesday to highlight his plan to boost manufacturing jobs in the United States, a priority for his administration in an election year when the economy has been the most pressing issue.
Obama took a brief tour of Master Lock, a padlock manufacturing company that the president praised during his State of the Union address last month for bringing 100 jobs back from China as that country’s labor costs rise. As part of his 2013 budget request, the president has proposed new tax breaks for companies that return jobs from overseas.
“Manufacturing is coming back. Companies are bringing jobs back. The economy is getting stronger. The recovery is speeding up,” Obama told a crowd of Master Lock employees on a factory floor. “And now we have to do everything in our power to keep our foot on the gas.”
A January jobs report from the Labor Department showed that the private sector created more than 250,000 new jobs, boosted by a growth of 50,000 in manufacturing.
While U.S. factories have been boosting output steadily since the recession thanks to strong auto sales and continued investment in machinery, there’s still a significant gap between the recent surge in corporate profits and growth in American jobs.
The fact that some of the country’s best-known multinationals do not release numbers about the jobs they have here and abroad has become a hot-button issue in Congress lately. In February, Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) introduced a bill that would require firms with revenues over $1 billion to report the breakdown and track the increase or decrease over the previous year.
Obama also told the crowd: “You’ve all heard enough about outsourcing. Well, more and more companies like Master Lock are now insourcing, deciding that if the cost of doing business here is not too much different than the cost of doing business in places like China, why not do it right here in the United State of America. Why not put some Americans to work?”
But Master Lock’s success has largely been an anomaly in Wisconsin, where private-sector job creation has fallen in each of the past six months, bucking national trends. Obama carried the state by 14 percentage points in 2008, and winning it remains important to his reelection chances.
As he has done in recent months, Obama reminded the Master Lock workers that the Detroit auto industry has begun growing again after his administration extended emergency loans in 2009 that helped them avoid bankruptcy.
“What’s happening in Detroit can happen in other industries,” Obama said. “It can happen in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Raleigh and Milwaukee, that’s what we’ve got to be shooting for, to create opportunities for hardworking Americans to start making stuff again and selling it around the world.”
With his stop in Milwaukee, Obama hopes to build momentum for his jobs agenda. Leaders in Congress have reached tentative agreement on an extension of the payroll tax cut through the end of the year, a measure that would provide an average worker with an addition $40 per paycheck.
The White House also announced that later this year the Department of Commerce will host the first annual SelectUSA Investment Summit, bringing companies from around the world to meet with governors, mayors and other stakeholders.
In Wisconsin, Obama’s goal of carrying the state in November has been further complicated by the statewide effort to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who met Obama at the airport but did not join him on the factory tour because of a stomach flu.
Walker successfully pushed legislation last year that eliminated most collective bargaining rights for public employees, a move the president called an “attack on unions.”
Walker, who almost certainly will face a special election this summer, has become a star among conservatives, and he and his allies have suggested the recall race will motivate Republicans for the fall. Walker has told supporters that if he prevails, his win would damage Obama’s own chances to stay in office.
“From what we’ve heard for months ... the White House wasn’t particularly thrilled about having this election. ... This wasn’t part of their game plan,” Walker said this week, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I think his political people are perplexed” by it.
At the airport in Milwaukee, Walker gave Obama a Milwaukee Brewers jersey with the president’s name and the number 1 stitched on the back. In a brief interview on the tarmac, Walker said: “The bottom line is we’re one of the biggest, most dependent on manufacturing of any state in the country. We appreciate the fact that the president’s focusing on manufacturing.”
The Milwaukee visit is part of a three-day, three-state tour for Obama, who will attend fundraisers in California and tour a Boeing facility in Seattle.