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Obama visits Elkhart, Ind. (population: out of work)

August 5, 2009 | 10:08 am

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President Obama visited Elkhart, Ind., today, a city with one of the fastest rising unemployment rates in the nation, to dole out fresh dollars from Washington and make the case that his $787-billion stimulus package is working.

Unemployment in the Elkhart-Goshen metropolitan area, 4.8% at the end of 2007, had rocketed up to 18.9% by March. That's when manufacturing employment in the area, which centers on the slumping recreational vehicle industry, hit an 18-year low of 44,900 jobs. Obama conceded, "Elkhart has been hit with a perfect storm of economic troubles."

Speaking at a Navistar plant in nearby Wakarusa, Obama said that, thanks to a $39-million government grant, the factory that once made Monaco Coach RVs will now be able to build battery-powered vehicles, part of what he called a green innovation agenda.

"I don't want to have to import a hybrid car, I want to build one here," he said. "I want the technologies to be developed here in America."

As the president made his second trip in six months to Elkhart, Vice President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Steven Chu were also on the road, bringing news of battery technology grants to Detroit and Charlotte, N.C. Other Cabinet officials too were fanning out across the country, announcing $2.4 billion in competitive grants to promote the green economy.

"If we want to reduce our dependence on oil, put Americans back to work and reassert our manufacturing sector as one of the greatest in the world, we must produce the advanced, efficient vehicles of the future," the president said. "We have to harness the potential — the innovative and creative spirit that's waiting all across America."

It was vintage Obama, the Obama of hope, evocative of his speeches on the campaign trail last year.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Jason Reed / Reuters

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