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The economic forecast was grim, but President Obama was upbeat as he toured Honeywell's Golden Valley plant Friday and promised better times ahead.
"The economy is growing, but it's not growing as fast as we want it to grow," Obama told a crowd of workers at the manufacturing facility, as he ticked off a laundry list of recent bad news, from high gas prices to the growing fiscal crisis in Europe and disappointing job numbers at home.
The president touched down in Minneapolis during a crucial time in his campaign, but also on a day when the national economic picture took a dramatic turn for the worse. As the president touted his modest jobs initiatives, the stock market sank throughout the day amid dismal new employment numbers and fresh uncertainty about the economic crisis in Europe.
As he went from Honeywell to a rapid-fire series of fundraisers, Obama spent much of the day trying to rekindle the enthusiasm that propelled him to office, while not letting the growing economic uncertainty create doubt about the path he wants to take forward.
"We will come back stronger," he told Honeywell workers. "We do have better days ahead and that's because of all of you."
The president, who has hit a number of cities as he gears up for re-election, urged Congress to offer tax incentives to businesses to hire unemployed veterans and to homeowners to refinance their mortgages at lower rates.
Doing so, Obama quipped, might give Americans the extra cash they need to buy a "thingamajig for their furnace." The remark drew peals of laughter from Honeywell employers, who build many types of furnace thingamajigs.
Obama acknowledged the economy is "not where we want [it] to be," but said there are continuing signs of recovery, including in manufacturing.
"I place my bets on American workers and American businesses any day of the week," he said.
While at Honeywell, Obama announced his new "We Can't Wait" initiative, aimed at helping thousands of service men and women get the civilian credentials and licenses they need to score jobs in manufacturing and other high-demand industries such as health care and trucking.
"I believe that no one who fights for this country should ever have to fight for a job when they come home," Obama said. "Just like you fought for us, we'll keep fighting for you, for more jobs."
Iraq War veteran Tom Newman was one of several American Legion officers on hand for the president's speech. He knows firsthand how difficult it can be to make the transition from the battlefield to the job market.
"When civilian employers make the effort to hire veterans, it benefits both sides," said Newman, who returned from Iraq five years ago. "It benefits the veteran to have work, and the employers benefit from that individual's training, their experiences and their strong work ethic."
Obama pointed to the case of a Minnesota veteran he met who had earned the Bronze Star as a combat medic in Afghanistan, but could not get a job as a first responder when he came home.
"If you can save a life on the battlefield, you can save a life in an ambulance," Obama said.
As many as 126,000 service members could benefit from the effort, a senior administration official said, adding that the cost would be "pretty minimal and paid for with existing resources."
It's the latest in a series of initiatives Obama has championed to help veterans, and his campaign has been underlining the effort as it tries to win support from the traditionally Republican voting bloc. A Memorial Day Gallup poll showed military veterans supporting Republican Mitt Romney over Obama 58 to 34 percent.
Honeywell was chosen by the administration to present the new program because of the company's record of hiring veterans.
A major defense contractor headquartered in Morristown, N.J., Honeywell International Inc. embraced Obama's hire-a-vet challenge last year with gusto, beating its own target of hiring 500 vets last year. It currently employs about 65 veterans in Golden Valley.
Before taking the stage, Obama toured the massive warehouse, with glistening floors and tidy machinery.
Doug Kettler, a Honeywell operations leader, showed the president machinery that makes oil regulators for home furnaces, producing up to 4,000 a week.
"It's awesome," Kettler said a few minutes before Obama came to his work area.
When the president arrived, wearing safety glasses but not his sport coat, he shook hands with the workers and looked at the packaged oil controllers.
"Made in America," he said. "I like that."
Kettler and his crew later said they were all Obama supporters.
Dempsey Miller, one of the workers, did not have an Obama hat, so he wore one from Ohio with a giant "O" on the front.
"I wore it to show him that I support him," Miller said.
After the speech, Obama headed to downtown Minneapolis for back-to-back fundraisers at the Bachelor Farmer restaurant, owned by the sons of Gov. Mark Dayton.
The fundraisers included two roundtables with the president -- one at $40,000 a head, the other $50,000 -- and a $5,000-a-person luncheon where the president spoke. The luncheon drew about 100 donors, while the roundtables drew a combined 30.
Returning again to the theme of the troubled economy in his remarks to donors, Obama worked in a dig at his political opponents.
"My hope was that we'd have Republicans and Democrats coming together because the nation was facing an extraordinary challenge," he said. "It turns out ... their [Republicans'] approach was that if we can beat Obama, that should be our primary focus."
In this election, he said, "the center of gravity" for the Republican Party has shifted to create a stark contrast between the two presidential candidates.
"I believe that when we are successful in this election, that the fever may break," he said. "There is a tradition in the Republican Party of more sense than that. My hope and my expectation is that after the election -- now that the goal of beating Obama doesn't make much sense because I am not running again -- that we can start getting some cooperation again."
Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049 Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044