Obama Talks American Manufacturing After State Of The Union

Carrying forward the momentum from his State of the Union speech, President Obama toured a factory in North Carolina on Wednesday and talked of making the United States "a magnet for manufacturing" in the new century. Ari Shapiro was there and joins Audie Cornish to talk about the day after the big event.

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And I'm Audie Cornish.

There is a long tradition of taking the show on the road after a president delivers the State of the Union address. And so President Obama headed off to North Carolina today. His trip was just a few hours: a quick hop from D.C. to Asheville, North Carolina, where Obama visited a factory, two hours on the ground and then back to the White House. NPR's Ari Shapiro was with him and is in our studio now. Hi there, Ari. Welcome back.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks. Quick trip.

CORNISH: So, first of all, tell us exactly where the president went today and why it was significant.

SHAPIRO: So it was this factory in Asheville that used to be a Volvo plant, but during the economic downturn, Volvo closed the factory. And then in 2011, a Canadian company called Linamar moved in. They make parts for tractors and other heavy construction machines. They've hired 160 workers so far, with more on the way.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And while they could have gone anyplace in the world, they saw this incredible potential right here in Asheville. They saw the most promise in this workforce, so they chose to invest in Asheville, in North Carolina, in the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: So President Obama says this is an example of the kind of manufacturing rebound, the sort of insourcing that he wants to see more of in the next four years, and he said it's a pattern that's already under way. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan, Ford bringing jobs back from Mexico. Apple and Intel, they're both starting to make products in the United States again.

CORNISH: So what is President Obama's recipe to actually make that happen?

SHAPIRO: It has a lot of ingredients. Many of them came out in the State of the Union last night. For example, he wants to change the tax code to discourage companies in the United States from doing business overseas and make the U.S. a friendlier place in the tax code for companies to invest here.

He wants to bring down energy prices to keep electricity cheap for companies to do business here. He also wants to improve the education system. He said if community colleges can train people specifically for the manufacturing jobs that are opening up, then it'll be more tempting for the manufacturers to move here.

He also wants to create what he calls manufacturing hubs. One of these already exists in Youngstown, Ohio. Last night, he announced that under his own authority, he's going to create three more, and he wants Congress to step in and help create a total of 15 of these hubs.

CORNISH: That's a long wish list. Is Congress likely to do any of it?

SHAPIRO: Well, frankly, they're pretty reluctant. Many of these programs that President Obama is talking about are programs that he already pushed in his first term that did not mesh with the priorities on Capitol Hill. There are other initiatives like infrastructure repair that have also been rejected by House Republicans who don't want to see new government spending.

Even though the administration says none of these programs will add to the debt, Republicans say if there are savings in other parts of the budget, that should be used to pay down the debt instead of funding new initiatives. The president did today talk about one new part of his agenda from the State of the Union, which is increasing the minimum wage to $9 an hour.

But this morning, House Speaker John Boehner said absolutely not. He argues that raising the minimum wage will discourage companies from hiring at a time when the U.S. absolutely needs to encourage job creation.

CORNISH: So why is President Obama continuing to push these policies if he's had such a tough time with Congress recently?

SHAPIRO: Well, we asked that question to Jay Carney, White House spokesman, on the flight down to North Carolina, and he said if you have the right proposal with broad-based support, you have to keep pushing it and fighting for it.

And that phrase, broad-based support, is key because the president believes that even if this turns out to be a policy failure and Congress doesn't pass it, if he has enough support, it will turn out to be a political success because he'll be able to portray Republicans as obstructing the will of the people.

CORNISH: NPR's Ari Shapiro. He traveled earlier today to Asheville, North Carolina, with President Obama. Ari, thanks.

SHAPIRO: Good to talk to you, Audie.

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