Seeking to boost economic spirits, President Barack Obama on Thursday hailed the construction of another car-battery plant as a symbol of a made-in-America rebound from desperate times.
Said the president to workers: "You are leading the way in showing how manufacturing jobs are coming right back here to the United States of America."
Obama's day-trip to Michigan sought to give attention to the electric vehicle battery industry — and to the White House's effort to spur job creation in a growing field — with financial help from taxpayers. With millions of people still looking for work and frustrated, Obama is under pressure to demonstrate progress.
"Our goal has never been to create a government program, but rather to unleash private-sector growth," Obama said. "And we're seeing results."
The president spoke at a groundbreaking for a Compact Power plant, the ninth factory to begin construction with the help of economic stimulus money, in this case $2.4 billion. Obama stood on a platform in the middle of the work site, which at the moment remains a big area of mud and dirt, with shovels ready to go.
The plant is expected to ultimately employ 300 full-time workers, coming at a time when every new job is coveted.
The technology Obama is promoting is not yet widely available and remains far out of reach for most consumers, although Obama said Thursday that manufacturing advances will drive down costs significantly over the next few years. Electric cars currently on the market, such as the Tesla Roadster, retail for around $100,000, but federal tax credits can drive down the price somewhat.
More affordable models, the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt, are coming onto the market later this year. The Nissan Leaf is expected to be priced at less than $33,000 when it comes out.
Obama said the U.S. is on its way — within five years — of commanding 40 percent of the world's capacity for advanced batteries. He spoke of progress in which salespeople have a few more dollars in their pockets, innovators are taking chances again, and construction workers are heading to jobs site each day.
"This is a symbol of where Michigan's going," Obama said. "This is a symbol of where Holland is going. This is a symbol of where America is going."
After his remarks, Obama got a look at an electric Ford Focus and a Chevy Volt, the two cars that will use batteries manufactured at this plant. The president climbed into the driver's seat of a silver Volt, and then he took a turn inside a bright orange Focus. Upon emerging from the Focus, he told reporters: "I'm telling you, guys, I recommend them. I wouldn't have minded tooling around in this when I was 20 years old."
Recent polls suggest the public's confidence in the president's record on the economy is slipping. A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted this month found that just 43 percent of Americans approved of Obama's handling of the economy, down from 50 percent last month.
With unemployment expected to hover near 10 percent through November's midterm elections, White House officials know they will have a tough sell with voters as they argue that the economy would be even worse had it not been for Obama's $862 billion stimulus program.
Investing in electric vehicles has been a central tenet of Obama's message on the economy and clean energy.
Most of the batteries are now manufactured in Asia, and auto suppliers and manufacturers have sought ways to expand the battery industry in the United States. Michigan is the largest recipient of the electric battery grants and is expected to receive more than $1 billion.