Bring jobs back to US, Obama tells companies
WASHINGTON PRESIDENT Barack Obama takes his election-year economic message to the Midwestern heartland on Wednesday, touring a Wisconsin padlock factory and stressing the potential of “insourcing” jobs back to the United States from overseas.
The day after meeting China’s leader-in-waiting, Vice-President Xi Jinping, at the White House, Obama was set to make the case for exploiting US advantages over fast-growing economies where labour and business costs are rising.
In Milwaukee, best known as the home of Miller beer, he will visit the company Master Lock that he lauded in his State of the Union address last month for having moved back about 100 union jobs from China since mid-2010.
Master Lock, a unit of Fortune Brands Home & Security, is the world’s largest manufacturer of padlocks and related products to secure homes, cars and bicycles. It says its Milwaukee plant is running at full capacity for the first time in 15 years - an example the White House is eager to replicate as the November 6 election nears.
“Right now we have an excellent opportunity to bring manufacturing back - but we have to seize it,” Obama said in a statement released before the Wisconsin visit, which starts a three-day trip where the Democrat will raise funds in California and stop in at aircraft manufacturer Boeing in Washington state.
“My message to business leaders is simple: ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed,” he said.
How to cope with a rising China - and compete against cheap Chinese exports - is one of the toughest challenges for Obama to navigate as the election approaches, particularly as opinion polls showing rising US voter frustration with the Asian economic powerhouse.
In Washington on Tuesday, he struck a friendly but firm tone with Xi, who is in line to assume the Chinese presidency in March 2013. But at the Master Lock plant, the president is expected to cheer US productivity gains that have encouraged some companies to turn their backs on China and start investing in and moving workers back to the United States.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, a former private equity executive, has accused Obama of being too conciliatory with China and lacking the executive or other leadership experience to steer the US economy toward lasting recovery.
The White House also said that Japanese carmaker Honda had plans to invest in a Ohio plant and that heavy equipment maker Caterpillar decided to shift production of excavators from Japan to Texas to support US customers better.
Master Lock is a positive story for Obama, who needs to tout his economic leadership to secure another White House term.
The Democratic president won Wisconsin in 2008 and although Republicans performed well in 2010 state and congressional elections, polls show him likely to clinch it again in November amid frustration over Republican Governor Scott Walker’s policies towards labour unions.
Last year, Walker signed into law legislation ending most collective bargaining rights for public workers and forcing them to pay more for pensions and health coverage.