Obama remains wary of economy in Charlotte visit

President Barack Obama visited Celgard, a Charlotte-based supplier to the lithium battery industry, Friday.
President Barack Obama visited Celgard, a Charlotte-based supplier to the lithium battery industry, Friday.

“While we’ve come a long way, we’ve still got a ways to go.”

That was President Barack Obama’s message to factory workers in Charlotte Friday.

Addressing employees of Celgard, a supplier to the lithium battery industry that received $49 million in stimulus money, Obama hailed a positive jobs report and stressed that his policies are helping the economy recover.

“The tough measures that we took— measures that were necessary even though sometimes they were unpopular—have broken the slide,” the president said, citing Friday’s Department of Labor Employment Situation Summary, which found that the economy had absorbed 162,000 new jobs in March, the most in three years.

Still, Obama struck a cautious note about the future.

“We have to be mindful that today’s job numbers—while welcome—leave us with a lot more work to do,” he said. “It will take time to achieve the strong and sustained job growth that we need.”

After briefly touring the plant, which manufactures the lithium battery separators used in electric vehicles, Obama spoke conversationally to the roughly 250 employees seated around him, praising their company for creating jobs in North Carolina that will bring clean energy to the nation. He also impressed upon the audience—which included a handful of politicians from the state—the crucial role of the federal government in economic recovery.

While acknowledging that the private sector has largely been the propeller behind job growth in America, Obama stressed the importance of government intervention in helping the country dig itself out of a protracted recession.

“What government can do is create the conditions for companies to succeed,” he declared. “[It] can create the incentives that will allow small businesses to add workers.”

After his speech, Obama opened the floor to employees’ questions, which ranged in content from the president’s recent decision to expand drilling off the East Coast to whether his limousine is a hybrid—it is not.

Considering that the nation faces harsh economic times in which the unemployment rate has held relatively steady at about 9.7 percent, one woman asked why Obama was raising taxes as part of the health care bill that he signed March 23. In response, the president said he was pleased to “clean up a lot of the misapprehensions that people have.”

Taking time with an issue he has addressed repeatedly during the last year, Obama touted the bill’s benefits to the currently uninsured and assured the woman that the  bill will lower the deficit through the elimination of Medicare subsidies. He added that the bill will only raise capital gains taxes on individuals making more than $200,000 a year and couples making more than $250,000.

Audience members said they appreciated Obama’s attentiveness to their concerns.

“He seemed to really care that people understood what he was talking about,” said Leon Butcher, a part-time employee.

Joe Montagnino, a chemist technician with the company, described the president as “very genuine.”

Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., was also in attendance, along with other members of Congress and N.C. Governor Bev Perdue. Watts described Obama as “excellent,” and added, “He’s able to break things down to a common understanding.”


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