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Obama visits Prince George's window manufacturer Thompson Creek

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 7, 2011; 10:16 PM

The recession has been good to Rick Wuest.

During the past two years, Wuest's company, Thompson Creek, a window manufacturer in Landover, has grown from 168 employees to 289. Sales are booming. And last week, he leased a new 46,000-square-foot headquarters.

Wuest credits an emphasis on customer service and the firm's efficient production model - as well as President Obama's stimulus plan, which had allowed homeowners to write off as much as $1,500 on their income taxes by purchasing energy-efficient windows.

Thompson Creek has offered the discount to more than 6,000 customers, Wuest said.

"Anytime you can offer a product to a homeowner and Uncle Sam will pick up 30 percent of the bill, that helps," Wuest said. "I can't deny that."

On Friday, Obama visited the Thompson Creek production plant, a stone's throw from the FedEx Field in Prince George's County. While there, the president announced new members of his economic team, appointing Treasury aide Gene Sperling to head the National Economic Council.

Obama hailed new economic data that showed the nation added 103,000 jobs in December and the unemployment rate fell from 9.8 percent to 9.4. Thompson Creek, Obama said, was a success story that he hopes is replicated across the country.

"Rick was telling me that when that tax credit got into place, the marketing arm of Thompson Creek got busy," Obama told an audience filled with dozens of Thompson Creek managers. "And that's right - that's exactly what we intended."

Obama's appearance was a bit of bright news for Prince George's, which has some of the highest levels of housing foreclosures in the Washington region.

New County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who attended the event, is facing a$77 million budget gap. Baker has said the county will close it by trimming spending instead of dipping into reserves.

For Wuest, the day marked a high point for his family-owned business, which was created by his parents in 1980 in Annapolis. As a youth, Wuest lived above the window plant, a point Obama picked up on in his speech.

"I'll bet sometimes Rick still feels like he's living at the plant," Obama said. "That's what happens when you're in charge."

The company's rapid growth has kept managers such as Joe DelVecchio, the head of the marketing division, busy trying to find new employees.

The firm's Web site currently lists 16 openings in departments including accounting, marketing and sales.

DelVecchio said Thompson Creek has hired 86 people under the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act, passed by the government in March to offer a tax benefit to employers who hire people who've been laid off.

One of them is Doug Bower, 26, who was hired 10 months ago. Bower was driving to a new job at a staffing company in Miami when he got a call that the job had been eliminated. He returned to Bethesda and waited tables at a Tex-Mex restaurant while trying to navigate what he called a "terrible" job market.

"Employers can be so picky," Bower said. "They all want to see experience, but they're not willing to give it to you."

Eventually, a friend working at Thompson Creek referred Bower to DelVecchio, who promptly offered him a job in sales. Since then, two of Bower's college friends have also been hired.

Wuest said he was shocked when he got a phone call three days ago from a friend at the National Association of Manufacturers, a lobbying organization, who explained that Obama's staff wanted to examine his facility. Before long, Secret Service officers were scouting the place, and plans were in motion for the president's visit.

"We've been growing through a difficult time," Wuest said. "I have friends around the country and locally with similar businesses. They're not all enjoying the success we have. Knock on wood."

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