Speaking to about 2,000 local people at Chattanooga’s Amazon distribution center, President Barack Obama said he can’t run for re-election, so he has no reason to “spin” the facts.
He told the people, most of whom were Amazon employees, he wanted them to hear the “honest truth,” which is that there are no gimmicks to create jobs. There isn’t a simple fix.
It’s sort of like trying to lose weight.
“Growing the economy, making sure that the middle class is strong, is like getting in shape,” he said. “You can’t just go on the muffin and doughnut diet and the latest fad and lose weight. You’ve got to work out, and you’ve got to eat better. Well, the same is true for our economy. The same is true for helping the middle class.”
He speech was spirited, funny and serious at different times.
He spoke to Amazon employees as if they represented the entire middle class. And he received a warm welcome from the audience, who applauded and cheered many times throughout the speech.
Education, solid infrastructure, research, good energy policies, decent wages-those issues will be his focus for the 1,270 days he has left in office, he said.
“We can’t be getting into a whole bunch of fads and pretend like you roll back Obamacare, and suddenly, all these jobs are going to be created because the middle class was struggling before I came into office,” he said, to applause.
As he ended his speech, he spoke directly to the people of the Scenic City.
“We can do it if we work together, Chattanooga,” he said. “Let’s get to work.”
Amazon adding jobs
On Monday, Amazon leaders announced they are adding a total of 7,000 jobs nationwide, some of which will be in Chattanooga.
The company is creating 5,000 new full-time jobs in fulfillment centers across the United States to meet increasing customer demand, according to a news release from the company.
Leaders are also hiring more than 2,000 customer service positions, which will be a mixture of full-time, part-time and seasonal positions.
Chattanooga’s distribution center is one of more than 40 fulfillment centers in the U.S. where Amazon employs more than 20,000 full-time employees.
Centers in Chattanooga and Cleveland have created thousands of local jobs.
Audience reaction to Obama
Although the Chattanooga Tea Party protested the president’s event, those inside had kind words about him.
Click here to see pictures and information about the protest, which the group held on Lee Highway.
Amazon employee Lydia Flanders, who introduced the president, will hit her one-year mark of working at Amazon next month.
She’s a UTC graduate, and her husband works at Amazon, too. And after the recession hit them hard and they were both out of work, they found positions at Amazon.
She also noted that her daughter, Malia, has the same name as one of the president’s daughters.
Before the event started, Flanders said that most Amazon employees were truly excited to have the president in their place of business.
And she never imagined she’d be so close to the president.
“I could not believe it,” she said. “It’s an absolute honor to be in his presence.”
She called it “historic” for him to be in Chattanooga.
“It was just exciting,” she said about learning the president would be there. “It’s been an aura of excitement is the best I can describe it.”
He said that Chattanooga’s progressive growth is putting it on the map, and he expects the city to be the stop on more presidential visits.
And he said the president had a message that is relevant to Chattanooga residents.
“What the president had to say was relevant to the decisions the city has to make moving forward,” he said. “Addressing that kind of middle-class job growth and a better future was really, really relevant.”
And partisan politics aside, it’s exciting to hear the president of the United States say “Chattanooga,” he said.
Obama laid out a five-point economic plan.
And he offered up a deal on tax codes to Republicans in Washington, some of whom he painted as uncooperative.
He said the current tax code is “riddled with wasteful loopholes” and that many small companies end up paying more than big corporations who have accountants to help them stash their money abroad and avoid taxes, he said.
Obama wants to simplify the code to close loopholes, end incentives that put jobs overseas and lower rates for businesses to create jobs here.
But he also wants to give not only the businesses but American workers a “better deal.” And that’s where the deal with Republicans comes in.
He wants to use some of the money saved during transitioning to a better tax system to create solid construction jobs, to build high-tech manufacturing hubs and to support community colleges that help provide workers with needed skills, he said.
“I’m willing to work with Republicans on reforming our corporate tax code, as long as we use the money from transitioning to a simpler tax system for a significant investment in creating middle-class jobs,” he said. “That’s the deal.”
The president said he is tired of the same old discussions in which Republicans reject ideas just because they are his.
The first point of his plan involves creating manufacturing jobs. That idea drew applause.
“Over the past four years, for the first time since the 1990s, the number of manufacturing jobs in America hasn’t gone down; it’s actually gone up,” he said. “So the trend lines are good; now, we’ve got to build on that progress.”
To do that, he wants to offer new incentives for manufacturers who don’t ship jobs overseas but instead bring them to the United States.
He wants tax credits for communities hurt most by plant closures.
Obama also said he wanted to create “manufacturing innovation institutes” that connect colleges and federal agencies to help people keep up with global competition and be more educated for high-tech jobs.
He had previously said he wanted to create 15 hubs, but Tuesday, he said he was asking Congress to triple that number to 45 because he said he wants the United States on the “forefront of the next revolution in manufacturing.”
He doesn’t want to see it happening overseas.
Although Amazon’s local fulfillment facilities don’t actually manufacture anything, Chattanooga and the state of Tennessee have gotten attention in recent years for their manufacturing strength.
And the city has a long history of manufacturing.
Now, workers here make everything from Little Debbie snack cakes to Volkswagen Passats.
“Chattanooga has had a success story in manufacturing for close to 150 years,” Tim L. Spires, president of the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association, said via email earlier this week. “The phrase ‘Dynamo of Dixie’ is representative of our longstanding rich manufacturing heritage. We have also seen phenomenal growth in the last several years.”
Business Facilities, a national economic development publication, just ranked Tennessee No. 1 for automotive manufacturing strength for the fourth consecutive year, according to The Tennessean.
No. 2-rebuild aging infrastructure
This is where the president got a little jovial. He joked about everything in the Amazon facility.
“I look at this amazing facility, and you guys … don’t miss a beat,” he said. “I mean, you’ve got these packages coming out. You’ve got dog food and Kindles and beard trimmers. I mean, there’s all kinds of stuff around here.”
But it has to get to customers from the distribution centers. And that means the country needs good roads and airports and other infrastructure.
There is about $2 trillion of deferred maintenance in the country, so Obama wants to put construction workers on infrastructure, perhaps widening “Route 27 here in Chattanooga,” he said.
“Congress should pass what I’ve called my ‘Fix-It-First Plan’ to put people to work immediately on our most urgent repairs, like the 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare,” Obama said.
No. 3-create jobs through renewable resources, such as wind, solar and natural gas
He wants to reduce dependence on foreign oil and invest in wind, solar and natural gas. He said that will help reduce energy costs and pollution.
“So now is not the time to gut investments in American technology,” he said. “Now is the time to double down on renewable energy and biofuels and electric vehicles and to put money into the research that will shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.”
No. 4-export American products around the world
Last year, the president signed a new trade agreement with Korea because they were selling many Hyundais in the United States, but the U.S. wasn’t selling cars over there, he said.
“Since we signed that deal, our Big Three automakers are selling 18 percent more cars in Korea than they were,” he said.
So the next step is to help more businesses do the same thing. He called on Congress to allow trade negotiations to get the best for American workers and combine it with training programs so that workers have the needed skills to make products.
He spoke about the SelectUSA Program, which he said is an organized effort to attract foreign companies looking to invest and add jobs to the U.S. He said that he is directing his cabinet to expand that effort.
“And this October, I’m going to bring business leaders from around the world, and I’m going to connect them to state leaders and local leaders, like your mayor, who are ready to prove there’s no better place to do business than right here in the United States of America,” he said.
No. 5-help the unemployed
The president said that the more than 4 million unemployed Americans need help. And part of the problem is that they have been out of work so long that the gap in their résumés makes it even harder to find a job.
So he challenged business owners to do more and said he wants to highlight some of the best hiring practices in the country to help in the mission to get people back to work.
He also called on businesses to do more for workers because happy workers are hard workers.
He mentioned Amazon’s tuition reimbursement program that pays $12,000 over the course of four years and gives employees the chance to take higher education courses and move up at Amazon or elsewhere.
“And because nobody who works full time in America should have to live in poverty, I’m going to keep on making the case and fighting for the fact that we need to raise our minimum wage, because right now, it’s in lower terms than it was when Ronald Reagan took office,” he said, to applause.
The Amazon employees make more than the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25.
According to Integrity Staffing, which helps place some Amazon employees, fulfillment center employees can make between $10.50 and $11.50 an hour.
Sources told Nooga.com that employees at the fulfillment centers start at about $11 an hour and get a pay increase every six months, up to $13 an hour.
In Obama’s February State of the Union address, he proposed raising it to $9 an hour and automatically adjusting it with inflation.
Opposition to the plan
Even before the president spoke at Amazon, some emails of opposition came to the media.
Tax Foundation’s President Scott Hodge said that the president’s corporate tax proposal is a “confused mix of policies.”
“The president has often spoken of favor of the need to reduce the U.S. corporate tax rate, and he’s right-we have the highest rate in the world, and that needs to come down in order to make us more competitive around the world,” he said in a prepared statement. “But improving the corporate tax code with one hand while placing extra burdens on U.S. companies with the other is not going to lead to the increase in jobs and economic growth we need.”
USA Today reported that Republicans such as House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said via his spokesman that the president’s proposal leaves small businesses and American families behind.
Talking Points Memo had a piece Tuesday about the need for compromise and said that other key Republicans, such as Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., could play a significant role in whether the president’s plan gets traction.
Buzzfeed.com had an article about how small book retailers are upset with the president’s presence at Amazon.