President Barack Obama answered questions for Millennium Steel workers and community members Oct. 3 in Princeton, Ind. Obama spoke about raising the minimum wage and having equal pay for women and men, among other topics. DN PHOTO BREANNA DAUGHERTY
Obama visits Indiana for National Manufacturing Day
PRINCETON, Ind. – "Soft" is how one Ball State student described President Barack Obama's hands.
Erica Walsh, a senior economics and logistics and supply chain management major, got the opportunity to shake hands with the president during his Oct. 3 visit to Millennium Steel, LLC, Oct. 3 for National Manufacturing Day.
Walsh is also the president of the College Democrats of Indiana and brought students from the University of Southern Indiana and Purdue to the event.
Obama's visit included a tour of the Millennium Steel plant, which is a large supplier of raw materials for Toyota, with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, followed by a Q-and-A session with plant employees, community leaders and students.
"I liked how open it was. I like how everyone could ask what they wanted to and it wasn’t a predetermined speech," Walsh said.
The president mentioned subjects such as raising the minimum wage, lessening the gender pay gap, rebuilding infrastructure and making sure the American manufacturing industry stayed in the lead globally, which meant passing the jobs to younger generations.
Aside from Obama's 22nd wedding anniversary, Oct. 3 was the third year for National Manufacturing Day, which was created to target younger people to fill vacant factory jobs and ensure the industry's continued success.
“We invent stuff faster and better than anyone else, and if we lose this lead, it’s not going to be good,” he said.
Compared to other states, Indiana had the largest percentage of its workforce in manufacturing, followed by Wisconsin and Iowa, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nationally, in 2012, nine percent of the U.S. workforce was directly employed in manufacturing, and the industry accounted for 12.5 percent of GDP, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.
Obama also mentioned the career opportunities in manufacturing and how it could be an alternative to college.
“You can make a good living," he said. "And it doesn’t have to take a four-year degree."
The president said manufacturing has added 236,000 jobs total, and the unemployment rate is below six percent for the first time in six years.
Indiana's unemployment rate was 5.6 percent as of April 2014, according to the BLS.
"We’re going to keep on going until every single person who wants to find a good job out there can get their job and that America is competing against everyone else so that the 21st century is an American century, just like the 20th century was," Obama said.
In addition, the president stressed the importance of an educated middle class and announced a challenge from the Department of Defense for a university or research institution to be awarded more than $200 million in public and private investment to create an Integrated Photonics Manufacturing Institute, according to a press release issued by the White House.
Photonics use light in a wide variety of applications, such as lasers, welding and telecommunications networks. Advances in the technology could also contribute to battlefield imaging and radar systems.
Alongside the Manufacturing Day discussions, Obama also mentioned his healthcare plan. Indiana Governor Mike Pence met Obama at Evansville Airport, where the President expressed his administration's willingness to work with the state on expanding Medicaid.
“We have ruled out expanding traditional Medicaid, but as I reiterated to the President today, if we have the opportunity to build on the Healthy Indiana Plan to expand coverage the Indiana way, we’re open to doing that,” Governor Pence said. “We talked through a number of issues that have arisen in the course of our discussions, and I appreciated the opportunity to call the matter to his personal attention.”