President Barack Obama visited town yesterday lauding local green energy stimulus programs with a visit to Kansas City-based Smith Electric Vehicles defending his push for green jobs and the Federal Stimulus package used to finance it.
President Obama praised the creation of 50 new clean energy assembly line jobs at the electric delivery van manufacturer located at the former site of the TWA overhaul base near KCI airport.
The company, which produces the Smith Newton, was the recipient of a $32 million federal grant via the controversial multi-billion dollar Federal Stimulus package.
The President toured the facility, met with the company’s C.E.O. Bryan Hansel and the workers whose jobs are owed in part to the investment of federal dollars into the start-up company’s future.
On hand to greet the President were Congressmen Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo), Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) and Senator Claire McCaskill, who the President described as “a friend and tireless defender of the people of Missouri.”
“The reason that I here today is that you are doing more than building electric vehicles,” said President Obama. “You are helping us fight our way through a vicious recession and building the economy of America’s future.”
The President told the audience the federal stimulus was necessary to fight off a recession caused by a “culmination of a decade of irresponsibility” that caused a massive financial crisis and cost 8 million Americans their jobs. He defended the federal stimulus as necessary to avoid another great depression and a “complete meltdown of our financial system.”
“Some of the decisions we made weren’t popular at the time, some might still be unpopular today,” said President Obama. “But we made those decisions because we had to stop the freefall.”
“One of those decisions was to provide critical funding to promising innovative businesses, like Smith Electric Vehicles,” added the President. “Because we did there is a thriving enterprise here, instead an empty, darkened warehouse.”
“And we made that kind of decision all across America last year,” said the President. “We were guided by a simple idea. Government doesn’t have all the answers. Government cannot generate all the jobs or growth we need by itself.”
“But what government can do is lay the foundation for small businesses to expand and hire, for entrepreneurs to open up shop and test new products, for workers to get the training they need, and for families to achieve some measure of economic security.”
“That’s why, when my administration began, we immediately cut taxes—that’s right--you wouldn’t know it from some folks---we cut taxes for working families and small business owners –all across America to help folks get through these storms,” said President Obama. “With small business loans, a focus on research and development, and investments in high-tech, fast-growing sectors like clean energy – we’re helping to speed our recovery by harnessing the talent and drive and innovative spirit of the American people. Our goal has never been to create another government program, but to spur growth in the private-sector.”
The “Smith Newton” is the world’s largest battery-powered electric truck with a top speed of 50 miles an hour, a range of up to 100 miles on one charge and carries a payload of over 16,000 pounds. It stores electric energy during stopping through a process called “regenerative braking” and features the latest in Lithium-ion battery cell technology.
According to the Smith Electric-U.S. website, the Department of Energy monies will be “used to help offset the company’s future vehicle development costs and to incentivize <sp> Smith’s customers to participate in a commercial electric vehicle demonstration program.”
“The demonstration program will gather data on vehicles placed in service in different regions of the country and in a broad range of applications. Participating customers will receive a subsidy from the program for allowing their vehicles to be part of the demonstration fleet,” said the site.
Among the companies participating in the demonstration program are Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola Corporation and AT&T have promised to purchase fleets of vehicles using the tax incentives.
The White House credits the Recovery and Reinvestment Act for re-purposing the 80,000 sq. ft. jet engine overhaul facility, known as the TWA overhaul base. The facility was previously owned by American Airlines who moved its fleet-maintenance operations to their plant in Tulsa laying-off about 700 of its nearly 900 employees. American had purchased the base from Trans World Airlines in 2002.
Candidate Obama had previously visited the Overhaul base during the 2008 election cycle speaking to a crowd of laid-off workers from the base about the need for economic recovery.
“For example, right here at Smith, you’ve recently passed a milestone – hiring a fiftieth employee,” said President Obama. “I know you’re on your way to hiring fifty more. And we’re seeing similar things all across America, with incentives and investments that are creating wind turbines and solar panels, in energy efficient appliances and home building materials, and in advanced battery technologies and clean energy vehicles.”
President Obama also mentioned job creation spurred by similar Department of Energy grants in Colorado to companies that build solar panels that will create 1,500 permanent jobs and the construction of the country’s first large scale solar electric plant that stores energy for distribution.
“All told, we expect energy investments alone to generate 700,000 jobs over the next few years,” added the President. “And this is not just going to boost our economy in the short term but lay a platform for the future, for years, decade after decade after decade. As companies, like Smith, who start small begin to expand.
President Obama mentioned that Smith Electric’s CEO Bryan Hansel plans to open 20 more assembly plants, like the Kansas City plant, all across the country. The KC plant, located near KCI airport opened about a year ago and is currently producing five zero emission trucks a week, with production expected to double to 10 per week by year’s end.
“Just a few years ago, for America had the capacity to build only 2 percent of the world’s advanced batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles, like Smith’s,” said the President. “We account for 25 percent of the world’s economy and we were only making 2 percent of the world’s advanced batteries.
“Thanks to our new focus on clean energy and the work taking place at plants like this one – we could have as much as 40 percent of the world’s market by 2015, that in five years. But that also means we’ll have the expertise in this sector to keep on growing all around the world for years to come.
“But what is absolutely clear is that we are moving in the right direction – and that the surest way out of this storm is to go forward, not to go backwards,” said the President. “There are some people who argue that we should abandon some of these efforts – and some people who have made the political calculation that it’s better to say no to everything than lend a hand and get us out the mess we’ve been in.
"My answer to those who don’t have confidence in our future, who want to stop, my answer is to come right here to Kansas City,” said the President. “Come see what is going on here at Smith Electric. They would be hard pressed to tell you that you’re not better off if we hadn’t made the investments in this plant.”