U.S. President Barack Obama has returned to his home state of Illinois Thursday to push for his economic stimulus plan. He visited a factory where laid off workers stand to be rehired once the plan is in place.
For decades, the Caterpillar company has produced the heavy machinery used in major construction jobs.
It has been an economic success story, but now it too is feeling the pain of the recession.
More than 20,000 company employees were recently laid off. President Obama says it is an example of an unfortunate nationwide trend.
"What is happening at this company tells us a larger story about what is happening with our nation's economy because in many ways you can measure America's bottom line, by looking at Caterpillar's bottom line," he said.
The president spoke at a factory at the company's headquarters in Peoria, Illinois, surrounded by workers whose jobs have either been lost or are in jeopardy.
A recently laid off employee named Dan Armstrong spoke for them all.
"Because of the economy, I received a permanent lay off," he said. "This is hard to accept with a family to support."
Also present was company chief executive Jim Owens. He has promised to rehire some of the laid off workers once the stimulus plan goes into affect and money starts pouring into projects to build roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.
"It pains all of us greatly to have any lay offs," he said. "And we hope the time comes very soon when we can get our facilities fully utilized and all our employees back to work."
This was Mr. Obama's fourth event to promote the stimulus plan in as many days - and his first chance as president to meet with workers at a factory severely affected by the economic downturn.
The visit was part of an all-out campaign to sell the almost $800 billion package of government spending and tax cuts to the public.
Mr. Obama did so by talking about a ripple effect. He said the infrastructure projects funded by the plan will enable Caterpillar to rehire workers, and those workers will then spend their earnings at local businesses, enabling them to get on sounder economic footing as well.
He said it is a scenario that will be repeated at other companies across the country once the plan is implemented.
"Rather than downsizing, they may be able to start growing again," Mr. Obama said. "Rather than cutting jobs, they may be able to create them again. That's the goal at the heart of this plan - to create jobs."
Congress is expected to give its final approval to the plan over the next few days. And there are indications the White House would like to have a very public signing ceremony on Monday, which happens to be President's Day in the United States - a holiday held each year to honor two of America's greatest presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.