Cover Story: Presidential visit to Charlotte

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

President Obama's big push in Charlotte and the whole reason his people chose Celgard as the place he'd speak was to show how his stimulus package is creating new jobs in the energy sector.

But having the President here gave Charlotte a chance to shine the light on new jobs its creating outside banking.

Many people may not think of Charlotte as a energy hub but the city is trying to become one.

Just in the past three years Charlotte's added more than 3,500 jobs in the energy sector.

And just like the big banks helped lure a huge financial services sector here Charlotte-based Duke Energy and others are helping transform the area into an energy sector.

Charlotte's not the place you think of when you think "solar power."  But at a company called "Sencera" they're building the next generation of solar panels.

The city 3 weeks ago won a coup when Siemens announced its expanding a Charlotte plant that makes gas turbines, creating 825 new jobs.

And as the president learned Friday at Celegard Charlotte workers are making the next generation of batteries used in everything from computers to hybrid cars.

Charlotte an emerging U.S. energy capital?

"The hot shot young up and coming mayor of Charlotte, Anthony Foxx in the house," said the president.

A shout out for the city's new mayor whose likely visit to the White House a few weeks ago put Charlotte on the president's radar.

Now Mr. Obama may help light a fire in the city's energy sector.

"Getting that endorsement by the president is.. it's pretty strong," says Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner. "And it may encourage other companies to seek out Charlotte as well."

But in seeking out Charlotte the president may well have tried to shore up his own future.

In the days leading up to and since his health care package became law Mr. Obama has traveled to three states (Virginia, Iowa, Pennsylvania) and now North Carolina.  All battleground states that the Obama campaign won in the last election.

UNC Charlotte political science professor Dr. Eric Heberlig says anytime the president travels it's political. "When presidents travel to place it's usually a combination of both their political needs and whatever message they're trying to get across. So the message today was about the jobs report."

The president today taking credit for the economy adding 162,000 jobs in March.

And doing it in a place, the Charlotte area, that's lost 85,000 jobs since the recession began 2 and a half years ago.

Political watchers believe if the president hopes to win in North Carolina two years from now he has to show he's aware of the region's high unemployment and is trying to do something about it.

"I think his visit here keeps Charlotte on his radar screen," says Heberlig.

Anthony Foxx, Charlotte's mayor says, "We've gone through and done the most exhaustive work of any city in the country in terms of reaching out to unemployed workers to hear their thoughts and to carry those thoughts to the national level."

The mayor you'll recall over the winter held a series of town hall forums on jobs.

He and others have told the White House they'd like to see Charlotte held up as a national example of how a city can pull out of the recession and into a new economy.

Right now the region's unemployment rate is 12.8%, three percent higher than the national average.

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