President Barack Obama toured General Electric’s main campus in Schenectady and then addressed an audience of assembled company officials, GE employees and local, state and national politicians.
On his appointment of Jeffrey Immelt, GE’s CEO, to head Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, the president said: “I tasked Jeff and the other representatives with one mission — help to steer our nation from deep recession.”
Obama made a special introduction of Mayor Brian Stratton, calling him the “outstanding mayor of Schenectady.”
The president then highlighted a number of things GE has done — including the under-construction battery plant and the renewable energies headquarters. He primarily emphasized GE’s exports.
Read the official text
To view the text of Obama’s remarks, click HERE.
During his tour of the plant, Obama was impressed to see all of the countries for which GE is manufacturing turbines.
“We need to export more goods around the world. That’s where the customers are, it’s that simple,” Obama told an adoring crowd thick with Schenectady
politicians and GE employees.
“We’re going back to Thomas Edison principles, we’re going to build stuff and invent stuff,” he said.
TOURING THE PLANT
The hum of generators at the GE plant almost completely drowned out Obama’s voice as he toured the facility, but he could be heard asking four workers.
how long they’d been at GE. One said 37 years, and Obama responded playfully, asking if any if them could beat that. Another worker came close, at 35 years.
He spoke to them for more than a minute, and shook their hands, but that was all that could be heard.
The workers were standing around a nuclear monoblock, according to a large printed sign, but didn’t appear to be doing any work. The monoblock (which was never audibly explained) is heading to Baxley, Ga., to Georgia Power.
Kevin Sharley, plant manager, conducted the tour. He pointed out a steam turbine made of rippled metal. Obama touched it, then squeezed it as the manager explained it, though it was not audible.
According to another printed sign, it was a D11 steam turbine, which can provide as much energy as 150 GE steam engines 100 years ago.
The president also looked at a 324 generator, which a sign said can provide enough energy to light 8.5 mil CFL bulbs simultaneously.
Obama looked up at it and immediately jogged up the metal stairs set next to it. GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt and Sharley followed him slowly. He peered into the circular white generator, which had an eerie blue glow inside. When Immelt and Sharley caught up, they spoke with him at length while he stared into it.
Yellow tape marked the paths amid the generators. We passed at least four, and we were only in a small segment of the long, echoing, warehouse-like building.
The press was kept several yards away, and at one point we were sent around a corner, possibly in anticipation of Obama heading in our direction. Instead he stopped, just out of sight, and appeared to greet more workers.
One fashion note: Immelt wore a suit and jacket, while Sharley wore a blue sweater over a shirt.
Earlier today, President Obama gave Mayor Stratton a lift home.
Stratton, who was in D.C. for a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting, is with President Barack Obama today.
The president’s plane touched down shortly after noon at Albany International Airport, and the president spent a few minutes greeting well-wishers in a cordoned area off the tarmac before leaving in a convoy of limos for Schenectady.
Stratton was in Washington for a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting where he was scheduled to receive an award.
Schenectady and Veolia Water were chosen to receive the 2011 Excellence in Public/Private Partnerships award, in recognition of the city’s contract with Veolia to manage Schenectady’s wastewater treatment plant.
Since Schenectady began working with Veolia, an international water management company, the treatment system has been modernized and progress has been made on reducing the odor that causes many complaints from nearby residents.
Stratton said the arrangement allows the city to provide wastewater treatment “in the most cost-efficient and environmentally friendly means possible.”
UPDATE FROM DAILY GAZETTE REPORTER KATHLEEN MOORE AT GE’S MAIN CAMPUS:
12:07 p.m.: The City Council has also gotten seats, despite Council President Gary McCarthy’s predictions early this week that there might not be room.
McCarthy learned the good news Thursday, he said.
The newest councilman, Carl Erikson, was overjoyed to be there.
“This is the sole reason I ran for office,” he said jokingly. “It’s exciting. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
A GE employee, he put his name in the GE lottery for workers who wanted to attend the event as well as asking for a political invite.
“I tried both because I wasn’t sure what would happen,” he said.
11:44 a.m.: All of the invited guests are now seated. They include representatives from most of the community organizations, including the Schenectady YWCA, City Mission, Girls Inc., YMCA and United Way.
YWCA Executive Director Rowie Taylor is sitting in the front row. She is so excited that she took a photo of her seat.
“I feel like I’m 5 years old and it’s Christmas Day,” Taylor said.
She last experience something similar to this when she was 10 years old in 1960 when Jack Kennedy was running for president.
“His car stopped right in front of my mother. She took a pocket comb out of her purse and said, ‘Jack, comb your hair for the cameras.’”
Taylor said that Kennedy took the comb and used it and then returned it to her mother, who has kept it as a prized possession ever since.
Also present is a group of GE employees “won the lottery” to get seats.
They were picked at random, GE Energy worker Donna Burlingham said.
The Amsterdam woman called it a “once in a lifetime” experience.
With her is GE Energy employee Paul DeFilippo of Glenville, who said he’s hoping President Barack Obama calls for energy independence.
Burlingham said it could be an easy argument for Obama.
“Why send the money overseas?” she said.
None of them have any idea how they were chosen, but Taylor said she was impressed at the number of community service leaders on the list of invited guests.
“They invited lots of community organizations. I’m very, very honored,” she said. “It makes me realize how much GE values the community.”
UPDATE FROM DAILY GAZETTE REPORTER DAVID LOMBARDO OUTSIDE THE GE CAMPUS
Hundreds of people lined up on Erie Boulevard to catch a glimpse of the president’s motorcade as it passed by on a nearby overpass on its way to the General Electric.
The crowd was a mix of supporters, people hoping to witness history and advocates for peace that were hoping to advance their cause.
For Kyle Beverly, a student at Schenectady County Community College who was waiting along Erie Boulevard, the opportunity represented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in history. “This is a pretty important day for all of us,” Beverly said.
He suggested the Obama visit will shine a national spotlight on Schenectady, which he said is hurting economically like the rest of the country and is need of jobs.
Elaine Klein, of Niskayuna, and Peg Watrous, of Schenectady, used the pedestrian walkway to demonstrate outside the main reception gate at GE before they were eventually escorted back to the assembled crowd.
Klein and Watrous said they were both supporters of President Obama, but hoped he would make changes to the country’s military and foreign policy.
Wearing a button that said, “War Is Not the Answer,” Klein was very vocal about the need to abandon the military engagement in Afghanistan.
Once they were back in the group, Klein and Watrous were swallowed up in the mob of people constantly buzzing about a potential sighting of President Obama.
When the big moment came, the best view anyone got was of the very tops of a string of cars, with many people turning the wrong way because they were distracted by two black cars coming up Erie Boulevard. While there were expressions of disappointments after the anticlimactic finish, almost everyone seemed to appreciate their tiny brush with history.
Follow us throughout the day for our coverage of the president’s visit.
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