Obama touts factory jobs at Toyota supplier

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

President Barack Obama visited a Toyota Motor Corp. steel supplier in Princeton, Indiana, to tout the importance of the factory sector and note the auto industry is growing at its fastest rate in nearly a decade.

The White House has emphasized the importance of manufacturing, noting factories have added back about 700,000 jobs since 2010. But the sector has been devastated during the last decade.

“In some ways, American manufacturing is powering the American recovery,” Obama said at Millennium Steel, a supplier to the nearby Toyota assembly plant. “When our manufacturing base is strong, our entire economy is strong. Today, we continue our work to bolster the industry at the heart of our nation. With grit and resolve, we can create new jobs and widen the circle of opportunity for more Americans.”

Obama held an hour-long town hall meeting on National Manufacturing Day with workers who raised questions about the economy. He didn’t talk about Toyota specifically, but noted that auto industry sales are setting their fastest pace in eight years.

“This progress that we’ve been making: It’s been hard. It goes in fits and starts,” Obama said. “It’s not always been perfectly smooth or as fast as we want but it is real and it is steady and it is happening.”

The U.S. Labor Department said Friday the manufacturing sector added 4,000 jobs to 12.15 million — and about 160,000 jobs during the last year. The number of unemployed factory workers has fallen from 1.1 million in September 2013 to 700,000 in September as more have been employed and some have dropped out of the sector.

But when Obama took office in January 2009, about 12.7 million people were employed in manufacturing sector — a number that fell as low as 11.4 million during 2009.

Manufacturing in Michigan added 2,000 jobs to 572,000 in August — and the sector has added about 11,000 jobs this year. That’s still far below the nearly 900,000 factory jobs Michigan had in 2000.

The state has suffered through a series of rough years. In 2009 alone, Michigan lost a quarter of all its factory jobs, falling to about 470,000.

Although Michigan lost nearly half of its manufacturing jobs in the decade starting in 2000, manufacturing still accounts for 16 percent of the state’s total economic output, according to 2011 statistics.

Obama announced a new competition to award more than $200 million in public and private investment to create a new manufacturing institute to focus on “Integrated Photonics,” what the White House describes as the use of light for applications such as lasers. It’s the second of four competitions.

In July, Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan announced a $148 million lightweight-metals federal manufacturing institute will locate in Detroit — not Canton Township.

Obama said in February that southeast Michigan won a competition to host in Canton a Defense Department-funded American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute charged with helping to speed the use of lightweight metals into cars, trucks, airplanes and other uses. But after the site in Canton was leased by another business, the partnership looked for a new location.

The University of Michigan said the facility will be housed at 1400 Rosa Parks Blvd. at a Corktown plant that has been vacant for years. The last tenant of the 107,000-square-foot property was Mexican Industries, which made plastic moldings for the auto industry until filing for bankruptcy in 2001, UM said.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com