Obama Hails Master Lock For Bringing Jobs Home

President Obama traveled to Wisconsin on Wednesday. He toured the Master Lock plant, which has recently brought manufacturing jobs back to the US from China. The plant is running at full capacity for the first time in more than a decade.

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President Obama visited a Master Lock factory in Milwaukee to celebrate a homegrown success story. As he mentioned in his State of the Union address, Master Lock has been moving factory jobs back to the U.S. from China, what he calls insourcing.

As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, the president wants to encourage the trend with new tax breaks and other help from manufacturers.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Standing in front of cartons of Master Locks, stamped with an oversized Made in the USA label, Mr. Obama congratulated the company for making the most of what he calls a big opportunity. Production costs in China had been rising at the same time American workers have grown more productive. As a result, Master Lock has shifted about 100 new jobs from China to its unionized factory in Milwaukee.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You all have heard enough about outsourcing. More and more companies like Master Lock are now insourcing, deciding that if the cost of doing business here isn't too much different than the cost of doing business in places like China, then why wouldn't you rather do it right here in the United States of America.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama wants to encourage more factory jobs with tax incentives as well as increased training for would-be factory workers. He also announced the Commerce Department will host a summit this fall in an effort to lure more business investment from overseas.

OBAMA: Our job as a nation is to do everything we can to make the decision to insource more attractive for more companies. That's our top priority.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

HORSLEY: Wisconsin's factories lost tens of thousands of jobs during the recession and they've only begun to come back. How much weight the public gives that comeback is sure to shape the November election, both here and in the rest of the industrial Midwest. Wisconsin went for Mr. Obama by a large margin in 2008, only to see a big Republican shift two years later. Both results were unusual in a state that's often closely divided. Charles Franklin, who directs a political poll for Milwaukee's Marquette Law School, is eager to see how things shake out this year.

CHARLES FRANKLIN: Based on our first round of polling, it certainly doesn't look like the public has abandoned Obama, but he's still winning 49, 50 percent of the vote, not the 56 or 57 percent that he got in 2008.

HORSLEY: Wisconsin's unemployment rate is better than the national average at 7.1 percent, but recovery has been uneven with job gains in the first half of last year followed by job losses in more recent months. That's one reason Mr. Obama is eager to highlight a good news story like Master Lock's. Donald Olson has seen both ups and downs during his 25 years as a tool and dye maker at the factory.

DONALD OLSON: We're on the upswing. There's no doubt about it. We're bringing some jobs back from China and I got four years before I retire, and looks like I'm going to make her now. A few years ago, I wasn't so sure. But we're looking pretty positive now.

HORSLEY: But one reason this plant survived is it's now making more padlocks with fewer people. Even with the 100 or so new hires in the last year, this factory employs just over a third as many workers as when Olson started here in the mid-1980s. He points to some of the heavily automated equipment that now surrounds the plant floor.

OLSON: Even like that 42-42 over there, that combination machine makes a lock every 2.1 seconds. Nobody touches it. They just dump parts in different hoppers and the machine entirely assembles the lock, checks it, puts the tag for the combination, every 2.1 seconds. That's how we keep the world full of Master Locks. I don't know where they all go, but somebody's using them and we're glad they do.

HORSLEY: And Mr. Obama hopes stories like Master Lock's hold the key to more job growth and maybe a second term.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Milwaukee.

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