President Obama travels Thursday to tout the benefits of the stimulus package in Michigan, a state with one of the worst unemployment rates in the country.
Michigan has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation, having held the number one spot for four years, until May when Nevada moved to number one.
This is Obama’s third stop this year to the Great Lakes state and his second visit promoting the stimulus. He’s been to the Midwest more than a dozen times this year with a similar agenda.
President Obama will break grounds for a new lithium-ion battery plant in Holland, Mich., and plans to promote moving the country towards alternative energy.
Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Pete Hoekstra welcomes the president's visit in a video release while expressing concerns of government largesse, “If you take a look around, you will see companies that were built by individuals and families. They have never received a government stimulus package."
Hoekstra will attend the ceremony, but voted along party lines against the Recovery Act that's responsible for producing the green collars jobs in his district.
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at Wednesday’s White House briefing that the visit was in part a “roll call” on the vote. “These are businesses that are expanding and being created as a result of the tough votes that were taken on the stimulus. So you'll have a roll call of who thought this was a good idea and who thought this was a bad idea,” Gibbs said.
The administration believes that this new industry will spur America's innovation, reduce the U.S.' dependence on foreign oil, create a new economy and jobs for the future.
The White House hopes that by 2015 the US will produce 40% of the global market for lithium batteries; currently Asia commands a 98% foothold.
Thursday's ceremony for Korean company LG Chem is a $303 million project, half financed by the federal government's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Michigan receives $1 billion, the biggest share of the $2.4 billion Department of Energy grants designated for advanced battery components for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
"We're excited, looking forward to his visit, it will bring additional publicity to LG Chem groundbreaking," beamed Holland Mayor Kurt Dykstra.
The Tea Party has mixed feelings about administration's private-public initiative and has organized a protest along the presidential motorcade route to relay its anti big government, big spending message. "We are not protesting Obama coming to Holland. A visit from a sitting president is an honor," said Jim Chiodo, organizer of the Holland/Zeeland Patriot, a subgroup of Tea Party Alliance of Michigan.
Chiodo insists to Fox News that his group does not oppose economic growth if created by the private sector but says it should not be done using taxpayers' dollars, "We are not protesting the creation of jobs in Holland. It is the policy of picking winners and losers we oppose."
Congressman Hoekstra echoes the Tea Party's concerns challenging the administration to an economy of freedom, “Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if we gave a better tax climate to all of our businesses all across the country, all across West Michigan, so that we can see and realize the creativity of all Americans?"
Holland was chosen for its manufacturing base with a low level of unionization, local and state tax breaks for 12 years and low-cost electric rates.
The production of lithium ion batteries requires an enormous amount of electricity and the city's cheaper rates provide sizable savings for LG.
"Our electricity rates are 20% below the state average and lower than the national average, that gave us a competitive advantage, " Dykstra told Fox News.
LG Chem says the plant will create 400 jobs at the end of an 18-month construction period and has contracted to produce battery cells packs for the Chevy Volt and other GM cars.
LG Chem joins Johnson Controls Saft in manufacturing advanced batteries in Holland. These two facilities combined with four other companies across the state make Michigan the U.S. leader of advanced battery industry.
The city's jobless rate remains bleak at 15%, above the state's 13.6%. Michigan’s high unemployment causes half of its college graduates flee for opportunities elsewhere. With a population of 32,000, mostly of Dutch descent and a Republican stronghold, Holland borders on Lakes Michigan and Macatawa.
Despite the brutal winters from the lake effect snow and high unemployment, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index this year ranked Holland as the second happiest city in the U.S.
So welcome to Holland, Mr. President, and put on a happy face.