President Obama visits Triangle, pledges more job growth

Staff writerJune 13, 2011 

  • Presidential visits can create hassles for drivers. President Barack Obama is expected to arrive at Raleigh-Durham International Airport shortly after 11 a.m. today, drive to Cree's operations nearby in Durham, and depart about 2:45 p.m. He could decide to make other stops, too. For security reasons, details of his travel route are kept secret, but short traffic delays on Interstate 40 and other roads could be caused by the presidential motorcade.

  • The polls give a clue as to why President Barack Obama's campaign has decided to double down on this state for 2012.

    Obama has a 50 percent approval rating in North Carolina, higher than his 46 percent national approval rating, reports Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh-based firm with Democratic leanings.

    There are several reasons why Obama remains competitive here: The state has a significant black population, which has remained loyal to Obama. There has been no drop in support among white Tar Heel voters, whereas there has been on average a 10 point drop off nationally for Obama among white voters, said Tom Jensen, the poll's director.

    Obama is particularly helped by transplants; with a 60 percent approval rating among voters who have moved to North Carolina since 2000, Jensen said. He is helped also by a lack of enthusiasm so far for the Republican field.

    Charles Black, a Republican strategist, said polls should not be taken too seriously this early because likely GOP candidates do not have very high name identification.

    "If it's a close race nationally, we probably will win North Carolina," Black said. "But at this stage of the game, we have no idea who the nominee is going to be on the Republican side, what the economy is going to be like."

    North Carolina continues to be plagued by high unemployment, which could cause problems for Obama and opportunities for Republicans.

— President Barack Obama visited the Triangle Monday, pledging to find ways to accelerate job growth in an economy where high unemployment continues to be a drag on the recovery.

The president heard from a high-powered business group which recommended a series of steps designed to create a million more jobs during the next two years – from deregulation, to speeding up tourist visas, to encouraging construction for energy efficient projects.

“When we formed this we understood that we had averted the worst possibilities of a great depression and got the economy rolling again and stabilized the financial system,” Obama said told his 26-members Jobs and Competitiveness Council meeting at Cree Inc., an Led light company.

“We made great strides from where we have been in 2008,” Obama said. “We understood that although jobs were being created they were not being created fast enough. I wake up every morning thinking about how everyone who wants a job is able to get a job.”

The group released a set of recommendations today on how to spur both short-term and long-term growth in such sectors as manufacturing, construction, clean energy, health care and tourism.

“We have had 15 straight months of private sector job creation and seven straight quarters of growth” Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to the president, said in a briefing with reporters. “We are moving in the right direction. But the president is not satisfied with the pace of job creation.”

“We all agree there is more that can be can be done to accelerate the pace of job growth,” Jarrett said. “There is broad agreement that the recovery will be driven by the private sector.”

Among the recommendations of the jobs council were:

Do a better job of working with community colleges and vocational schools to train workers There are more than two million open jobs in the U.S. because employers can't find workers with advanced skills that they need.

Streamline permitting, making it easier to obtain permits.

Boost tourism by making it easier to visit the U.S. through improved visa processes.

Help small business owners obtain information and support they need to gain Small Business Administration funding.

Put more construction workers back on the job. More than two million construction workers are unemployed. More work can be done to make buildings more energy efficient.

The second meeting of the president's Job's Council will be held in Cree, an LED lighting facility in the Research Triangle Park. The council was formed in March and this wasthe first meeting outside the White House.

Before the meeting with the president, the Jobs Council, which includes a number of high profile business leaders such as Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of GE and Steve Case, chairman and CEO of Revolution and Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, held five sessions throughout the Triangle to listen to local business leaders on what can be done to improve job creation.

The president arrives at a time when there has been disappointing news on the job front. The nation's unemployment rate was 9.1 percent in May, and in North Carolina it was 9.7 percent.

Recent polling has found public disapproval of Obama's handling of the economy, with a Washington Post-ABC poll showing it has risen to 59 percent. No president since World War II has won re-election when the jobless rate was above 7.2 percent.

Cree, a LED lighting company, has become a favorite drop-by spot for political figures, in part because it is a new energy-efficient company that has grown from a small group of engineers to about 5,000 employees including 2,000 workers in Durham.

“This is a great example of how we can manufacture great products in the United States,” said Jen Psaki, the White House deputy communications director.

The decision to hold the jobs meeting in North Carolina had political implications. North Carolina, which Obama barely carried in 2008, is expected to be a key swing state in the 2012 election. In holding the jobs council here, Obama was not only underscoring his focus on jobs, but he was bringing some of the major corporate figures in the country to the Triangle, as well as some of the key figures of his administration.

Even before Air Force One landed at Raleigh-Durham Airport, Republicans dismissed the presidential trip as more politics than policy.

“In what will resemble more of a campaign event than actual substantive work address our economy, President Obama cares only about only one job, and that is his own,” said Ryan Tronovitch, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. “The 2012 election will be about one thing: the economy and North voters already know they can't afford another year with Obama, let alone another term.”

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