After State of the Union speech, Obama visiting NC
When President Barack Obama visits North Carolina after his State of the Union address, he will speak to workers at an auto parts factory that has become a symbol of local economic resurgence.
Canadian-based Linamar Corp., a supplier of engine, transmission and driveline components for cars and trucks, moved into a shuttered Asheville-area factory two years ago, pledging to hire hundreds of workers.
Strengthening the economy and creating jobs were a key concern for Obama in his first State of the Union address since his re-election. Although the U.S. economy is much healthier than it was four years ago, growth remains agonizingly slow and unemployment high.
The Linamar plant provides a perfect backdrop for the president, said Ben Teague, executive director of the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe County.
"It's a success story," Teague said Tuesday, adding that manufacturing in the area has "tremendous momentum behind it."
"We've actually seen growth in the last few years, which is great," he said.
Arden is about 15 miles south of Asheville, a picturesque city in the western North Carolina mountains.
The western part of the state was once home to thriving textile and furniture companies. But over the past 20 years, many of those plants have been shuttered as companies moved production overseas because of cheaper costs.
The area is beginning to see a turnaround, Teague said. In the last three years, manufacturers have invested nearly $520 million and created nearly 1,900 good-paying jobs in the Asheville area.
They include Arvato Digital Services, which invested $1.8 million and created nearly 410 jobs, and New Belgium Brewing, which is constructing a $175 million brewery that will create 154 jobs.
Linamar is clearly a catalyst. It moved into a factory that had been home to a Volvo plant, which closed in 2010, idling 220 workers.
When Linamar announced plans to open in Arden, it said it would invest $75 million and hire 260 people. But then the company said it would expand the operation to 650 jobs and boost the total capital investment to $200 million.
Linamar workers make about $40,000 a year.
One of the keys to the area's manufacturing success is the partnership between manufacturers and colleges. Officials are working to make sure companies have a highly skilled workforce to fill the new manufacturing jobs, Teague said.