FORT MADISON, Iowa — In a city socked by hard times even before the recession, President Barack Obama told factory workers here Tuesday that his administration is laying the groundwork to put the country “on a new foundation for long-term growth and prosperity.”
The president toured the Siemens Energy plant, which makes blades for wind turbines, the first of what would be a daylong series of stops in the state.
Later, he stopped in at a Mount Pleasant restaurant to sample the pie and coffee.
The president told Siemens workers the federal stimulus package gave the plant a $3.5 million tax credit last year, allowing it to boost production and create new jobs.
“So when people ask you ... what was the stimulus about. It was about this, this plant,” he said.
The president spoke to about 300 people inside the large factory, flanked by massive wind turbine blades.
The plant opened three years ago with 230 workers, and now employs about 600. Another 350 indirect jobs have been created from the plant, according to the company.
The White House couldn’t say how many Siemens jobs were created by the tax credit.
Obama’s trip to southeast Iowa is aimed at highlighting his economic agenda. And his travels are
taking him to some of the hardest-hit areas of Iowa’s economy.
Finding good jobs in the area is hard, some townspeople say.
“Here and the prison are about the only good jobs in town,” said Jessica Carter, a Siemens worker from Fort Madison who previously worked at a local hardware store.
She said her job at the three-year-old plant is “awesome.”
Obama, who has been visiting hard-hit areas, acknowledged that some parts of the country haven’t experienced recovery yet.
“Times are still tough in towns like Fort Madison,” he said. “And times are still tough for middle-class Americans, who have been swimming against the current for years before this economic tidal wave hit.”
Lee County’s unemployment was nearing 11 percent last month.
Matt Strawn, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, said Tuesday he was happy the president was in Iowa to talk about jobs. But he said, “Iowans understand that long-term job creation does not result from unsustainable federal spending.”
He told reporters the stimulus had failed.
Obama, however, said there is great potential in renewable energy at such places as Siemens and for too long the United States had only talked about boosting renewable energy while other countries moved ahead.
“I don’t accept second place for the United States of America,” he said.
After the Siemens stop, the president visited an organic farm in Mount Pleasant and then went to Jerry’s Family Restaurant, where workers showed surprise at their afternoon visitor.
“I’m not lying to you,” a restaurant worker said into the phone before turning to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Hey, Tom, tell my mom that he’s here.”
The former Iowa governor, who also used to be the mayor of Mount Pleasant, could be heard assuring the worker’s mother the president was, indeed, there.
The president agreed to a piece of pie but said he didn’t need a new pot of coffee.
“You can give me the old,” he said.
After Mount Pleasant, Obama headed to Ottumwa for a town hall meeting.
The president was making his second trip to the state in a month.
“I love Iowa,” he told the Siemens work force. “I wouldn’t have been president if it wasn’t for Iowa.”
Vilsack, who also spoke at Siemens, said the president understands the needs of rural America, and he cited the health insurance reform law, which he said would improve choice and lower costs.
“That’s going to make it easier for folks to make a living in rural America,” he said.
The group of Siemens employees cheered the president when he arrived, but their biggest cheer — a roar, in fact — came as he was leaving, when they were told at the end of the event they got the rest of the day off.