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Back in Iowa, Obama salutes green jobs

BY MORGAN OLSEN | APRIL 28, 2010 7:30 AM

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OTTUMWA, Iowa — Green jobs will be a key to economic recovery across the country, President Obama said during a visit to Iowa on Tuesday.

The president returned to the state after visiting the UI campus less than a month ago. His Midwest trip brought him to three towns in Iowa’s southeastern corner, including Fort Madison for a tour of the Siemens Energy Wind Turbine Blade Manufacturing Plant, where he touted green job creation.

“I believe that we can come together around this issue and pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation that will ignite new industries, spark new jobs in towns like this, and make American more energy independent,” Obama said.

And the University of Iowa is doing its part, officials said — by graduating young people capable of taking up environmentally friendly employment.

“The university is known as a leader in renewable energies and green-collar education,” said Liz Christiansen, the director of the UI Office of Sustainability. “I think our students are very interested in working for sustainable companies and for employers who care about something greater.”

At 5 percent, Iowa City’s unemployment rate is about half the national average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, giving the Iowa City area the third-best employment climate among U.S. cities.

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With national employment on its way up and more green jobs opening daily, officials said UI graduates’ job prospects are not so grim as those of students elsewhere.

In fact, David Baumgartner, the director of UI Career Services, estimated almost 90 percent of UI graduates will find employment within six months of graduation.

“It’s a lot easier to find jobs in the Midwest,” he said. “I think we can be optimistic about the future of employment in Iowa.”

Obama said the plant he visited is evidence of the economic effect green jobs can have.

While the town of Fort Madison struggles with high unemployment, the 600,000-square-foot Siemens Energy plant is thriving. The plant received close to $3.5 million in tax credits from Obama’s stimulus package for clean energy jobs.

“It was remarkable, made all the more so when you consider that just a few short years ago, this facility sat dark and quiet,” Obama said after touring the plant. “Today, it’s alive and humming with more than 600 employees, almost two-thirds of whom found themselves unemployed before landing here.”

After Fort Madison, Obama stopped for rhubarb pie in Mount Pleasant and then delivered an address at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa.

But some people remain unconvinced that the job market is surely on the way up.

“My perspective is that Wall Street is rebounding, but there’s still millions looking for work,” said 2006 UI alumnus Matt Ohloff, who attended Obama’s Ottumwa event.

Indeed, Ottumwa is a town still struggling to recover from the recession.

“It’s impossible to keep up with small-business closures around here,” said David Truitt, the owner of Truitt Abstract Company in Ottumwa. “It’s been open, close, open, close over the past few years.”

Truitt said his company, which has been family-owned since the 1940s, has seen hard times recently. For the first three months of this year, he and his wife went without paychecks.

Obama said he knows part of the American Dream is being gainfully employed.

“A job is more than a paycheck,” he said. “Anybody who’s been out of work — and by the way, I’ve been out of work — knows that feeling you get about being out of work, not just about paying the bills, but the sense of purpose and pride every American deserves.”

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