hide captionPresident Obama speaks to workers at the Monaco RV manufacturing facility, a division of Navistar International Corp., in Wakarusa, Ind.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
President Obama speaks to workers at the Monaco RV manufacturing facility, a division of Navistar International Corp., in Wakarusa, Ind.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
President Obama on Wednesday unveiled a blueprint to pump $2.4 billion in grants into the electric vehicle and battery industry, as part of an effort to create jobs and show that the economic stimulus plan is working despite nagging unemployment.
Accelerating production of electric cars would create tens of thousands of jobs through grants that will come out of the $787 billion stimulus package, the president said in Elkhart County, Ind., which has staggered under one of the nation's worst jobless rates.
Obama trumpeted "American innovation" as he announced grants to 48 companies and universities in more than 20 states, the bulk of which were in Michigan and Indiana.
"We've got to imagine a future in which new American cars are powered by new American innovation," Obama said during a visit to Navistar International Corp., which was awarded a $39 million grant to manufacture advanced-battery electric trucks with a range of 100 miles.
Navistar bought the Wakarusa, Ind., factory in June when its former owner, an RV manufacturer, went bankrupt.
"You know, just a few months ago, folks thought that these factories might be closed for good, but now they're coming back to life," Obama declared in front of a crowd of cheering employees.
The president said his scaled-up manufacturing effort would create thousands of jobs in Elkhart County, where the unemployment rate was 16.8 percent in June. Nationwide, unemployment hit 9.5 percent in June — the highest level in 26 years — and a new report due Friday could see the rate reach a new high.
Obama's trip to Elkhart, his fourth in 15 months, was part of a broader push as members of his economic team took to the road Wednesday to announce the grants and reassure the public that the administration's policies are putting Americans back to work.
In Michigan, Vice President Biden announced more than $1 billion in grants for Michigan-based companies and universities involved in clean-energy manufacturing.
Two Michigan companies will get $550 million in grants to establish a manufacturing base for advanced batteries in the state, while two others receive more than $300 million for making battery cells and materials.
Michigan-based automakers — including General Motors, Chrysler and Ford — are also slated to receive more than $400 million to make hybrid and electric vehicles, batteries and electric drive components.
The University of Michigan, Wayne State University in Detroit and Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich., will receive more than $10 million to train researchers, technicians and service providers. The universities will also conduct consumer research.
Echoing Obama's comments, Biden said the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was designed to promote American innovation. "For our nation and our economy to recover, we must have a vision for what can be built here in the future — and then we need to invest in that vision," Biden said.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu spread the grants and jobs creation message in Charlotte, N.C., while Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson was in Florida to announce details of a $95.5 million grant to build a plant to manufacture lithium-ion cells, modules and battery packs.
Other administration officials announced grants in Pennsylvania and Missouri.
In Indiana, six companies and one university engaged in electronic vehicle technology are slated to get more than $400 million in grants.
"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," Obama said.
The Energy Department chose grant recipients based on their applications for creation and development of the next generation of electric vehicles and battery technologies.
Despite the positive jobs creation message, the day's economic picture was mixed with one survey by a business services firm showing job losses slowed in July, while another suggested that there are more layoffs to come.
The labor market shrank by an estimated 371,000 jobs in July according to a report by ADP Employer Services. While still a decline, the report showed that last month's job losses had slowed significantly from previous months. July's figures followed a revised decline of 463,000 in June and could be a sign the labor market is beginning to bottom out.
But another survey by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas was more ominous. That survey found a 30 percent jump in planned layoffs.
The job picture should be clearer on Friday when the Labor Department releases its employment estimates for July, but administration officials have warned that job losses could grow through the end of the year. So far, the U.S. has lost about 6.5 million jobs since the recession began at the end of 2007.