STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Every four years, Iowa produces a bumper crop of presidential candidates who stand on hay bales, pet prize-winning hogs, and nod with interest at the rising price of a bushel of corn. President Obama may do all of that before long. But his first visit to Iowa in this summer before the caucuses found Mr. Obama not in a field but a factory. That's no accident. Mr. Obama sees factories like the Alcoa aluminum rolling plant in Bettendorf, Iowa, as a key ingredient in America's economic revival.
INSKEEP: A big part of our future has to be a robust and growing manufacturing sector. We've got to make things right here in America.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
HORSLEY: Dave Swenson of Iowa State University says manufacturing's role in the state's economy often goes unappreciated.
INSKEEP: If you ask people what's the biggest industry in Iowa, they're going to say agriculture. Many people won't even get to manufacturing by the fourth or fifth try.
HORSLEY: But the total manufacturing payroll in Iowa is nearly three times that of farming, partly because factories offer some of the best paying jobs in the state.
INSKEEP: They are the entree into a middle class lifestyle for a lot of Iowans that otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity for that kind of earnings.
HORSLEY: Walking through the Alcoa plant yesterday with the general manager and the president of the local Steelworkers Union, Mr. Obama was impressed by the 30-ton cranes overhead and the color-coded charts tracking quality and workflow.
INSKEEP: That's what made you guys competitive, having the best workers but also having the best equipment. You had to up your game. And that's what we've got to do as a country as a whole.
HORSLEY: The White House said this visit was simply a chance for the president to make his case for advanced manufacturing. But one couldn't help noticing all the Republican presidential hopefuls who've also been spending time in Iowa.
INSKEEP: I know you've been seeing a lot of politicians around lately. Something tells me that you may see a few more before February is over. But Iowa, you and I, we go a long way back.
HORSLEY: It was at a town hall meeting three years ago that Mr. Obama first met Cynthia Ross-Friedhof. The Bettendorf restaurant owner wowed the candidate with her description of her signature dish, the Magic Mountain: loose meat, French fries, and cheddar cheese sauce piled high on Texas toast. Yesterday, Mr. Obama surprised Friedhof by stopping by Ross's 24-hour restaurant for a sample.
INSKEEP: Now, I'm not sure that I'm going to be able to eat one of these, though.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
INSKEEP: You guys ever had one of these?
U: Oh, yeah.
HORSLEY: To Friedhof's delight, the president ordered half-a-dozen Mountains for himself and his staff, including two so-called Volcanoes, topped with chili and onions.
MONTAGNE: I hope he brought his antacids, because he said he's going to need one after he eats a Magic Mountain, he thinks. But I don't think so.
HORSLEY: Scott Horsley, NPR News.
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