BEDFORD HEIGHTS, Ohio - Taking his economic pitch on the road Friday, President-elect Barack Obama promoted his plans to create long-lasting, well-paying jobs in cutting-edge industries like alternative energy as part of his mammoth plan to pull the country out of recession.
"It's not too late to change course -- but only if we take dramatic action as soon as possible," the president-elect said as he sought an early victory on his stimulus program. He pledged: "The first job of my administration is to put people back to work and get our economy moving again."
Heading into his weekend preceding his triumphal oath-taking as 44th president, Obama visited with workers at a chilly Midwestern factory that makes parts for wind turbines. It was a fitting backdrop as he talked of alternative energy dollars included in a sweeping $825 billion House spending and tax-cut package that could reach $1 trillion by the time Congress sends it to him.
Citing an economy in crisis and getting worse, Obama has spent the past two weeks securing lawmakers' backing for the eye-popping plan that has drawn skepticism from both Republicans and Democrats because of its price tag and tax provisions.
The stakes are enormous for the country's next president; passage of the plan -- and bipartisan passage in particular -- would mark a significant achievement at the outset of his administration. Obama is inheriting a deep recession from President George W. Bush. Defeat would be a blow, coming not just in his first weeks in office but also as joblessness increases, bank failures continue, investment portfolios shrink and home prices plummet.
Either way, the success or failure of the plan could well set the tone for Obama's first 100 days in office, if not his first year or longer.
His campaign-style event was the first of several that Obama is expected to hold in the coming weeks on the economy. The trip came one day after the Senate approved giving him access to the second half of last fall's $700 billion financial industry bailout and after House Democrats unveiled a plan largely shaped by the president-elect's team.
"The need for us to act is now. It's never been more urgent," Obama told workers at the Cardinal Fastener & Specialty Co. in Bedford Heights, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. But he repeated a warning that he has given often in the two months since his election: "Given the magnitude of the challenges we face, none of this will come easy. Recovery won't happen overnight, and it's likely that, even with these measures, things will get worse before they get better."
Founded in 1983, the company has 65 employees and recently announced the creation of a wind power division to respond to what the company says is a surge of demand for their parts in the wind turbine industry.
Obama used the company as an example as he cast his broad plan as one that makes smart investments in the country's future, and asserted that it would double the production of renewable energy over the next three years and create nearly 500,000 jobs in the alternative energy industry.
"We're not looking to create just any kind of jobs here," Obama said. "We're looking to create good jobs that pay well and won't be shipped overseas. Jobs that don't just put people to work in the short-term, but position our economy to be on the cutting edge in the long-term. That starts with new, clean sources of energy."
Earlier, wearing clear protective glasses with his dark business suit, Obama stopped at several work stations on his tour to watch people demonstrate the various steps to manufacturing the large screws and bolts used to hold wind turbines together.
Ohio, which Obama won in last fall's election, is among a large swath of the industrial Midwest that's been hit especially hard by the recession.
The most recent figures available show that Ohio's unemployment rate was higher than the national rate at 7.3 percent in November, with 435,000 out of work, up from 5.7 percent the year before. Foreclosure activity rose 26 percent in Ohio in 2008, putting it among states with the highest foreclosure rates. And demand for food stamps, Medicaid and unemployment benefits are on the rise.
One of the largest bills ever to make its way through Congress, the stimulus package now under consideration calls for federal spending of roughly $550 billion and tax cuts of $275 billion over the next two years to revive the sickly economy. It focuses heavily on energy, education, health care and jobs-producing highway construction.
Energy-related proposals include $32 billion to upgrade the nation's electrical distribution system, more than $20 billion in tax cuts to promote the development of alternatives to oil fuels, and billions more to make public housing, federal buildings and modest-income homes more energy efficient.