Obama at Honeywell to spotlight jobs for vets

  • Article by: JENNIFER BJORHUS AND , SUSAN FEYDER
  • Updated: June 1, 2012 - 1:30 PM

He'll tout new "We Can't Wait" initiative during Twin Cities visit.

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President Obama

Honeywell has been on a hiring spree, putting 900 military veterans on the payroll at its facilities in Minnesota and elsewhere since the start of 2011.

President Obama will spotlight those efforts Friday during an address at the manufacturer's campus in Golden Valley, where he'll hit a familiar campaign theme: getting veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq back to work.

Obama will announce a new "We Can't Wait" initiative during his Honeywell stop, according to a senior administration official. Heading the effort will be a newly established Defense Department task force for credentialing and licensing.

Many soldiers have had a difficult time translating their military work experience to civilian jobs, and the effort aims to help thousands of service members get the civilian credentials and licenses they need to score jobs in manufacturing and a range of other high-demand industries such as health care and trucking.

As many as 126,000 service members could benefit from the effort, the official said, adding that the cost would be "pretty minimal and paid for with existing resources."

It's the latest of a series of initiatives Obama has championed to help veterans, and his campaign has been underlining the effort as it tries to win support in a traditionally Republican voting bloc. A Memorial Day Gallup poll showed military veterans supporting Republican Mitt Romney over Obama 58 to 34 percent.

Honeywell is a fitting spot to unveil the latest program for returning 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 last year. It currently employs about 65 veterans in Golden Valley.

Among other things, Honeywell plants in the Twin Cities make the ring laser gyro, a common navigation device used on commercial and military aircraft.

The president will be introduced by Ryan Sullivan, a Navy veteran who began working as an electrical technologist at Honeywell's Golden Valley facility in February, according to the White House. After his military service, Sullivan returned to Minnesota where he earned a two-year degree in electrical maintenance and construction at the Dunwoody College of Technology.

Obama is expected to use the Honeywell stop to again urge Congress to pass legislation to create a Veterans Job Corps -- a work program reminiscent of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s and 1940s. The president's proposed $1 billion program would put 20,000 veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq to work over the next five years repairing infrastructure and restoring habitat on public lands, and working as cops and firefighters.

Last November, the president signed into law two tax credits -- one to nudge companies to hire unemployed veterans and another doubling an existing tax credit for hiring long-term unemployed veterans with disabilities.

Obama's address comes on a day filled with fundraising. He's holding three fundraisers in Minnesota, all at the Bachelor Farmer restaurant in Minneapolis, which is owned by the sons of Gov. Mark Dayton.

According to a campaign official, the fundraisers include 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 will speak. As of Thursday, 100 people were signed up for the luncheon.

Political scientists noted that while Obama appears to be sincerely committed to veterans' issues, the address at Honeywell offers a suitable public, patriotic cause for a campaign visit.

Steven Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said he thinks veterans are too small a part of the electorate to be hugely influential in the election. And Minnesota, which generally leans left, is not regarded as a battleground state.

Smith said he thinks the address is more about reinforcing the image that every incumbent presidents wants "as an effective, forceful and caring commander in chief."

Obama's efforts are not without critics. A group of lawyers that includes Obama's former law professor Laurence Tribe of Harvard sued the Department of Veterans Affairs in June 2011 for not providing housing and mental health services for severely mentally disabled homeless veterans in Los Angeles.

The president has overlooked this vulnerable group of vets, said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel of the ACLU of Southern California. It's estimated that half of the roughly 102,000 homeless veterans in the country are severely mentally disabled, he said.

"The administration has taken the position in court that they have no authority or responsibility to provide housing for these vets so that they have access to services," he said. "They are literally dying on the streets."

A White House spokesperson said the Obama Administration takes the mental health of veterans ver seriously.

"The Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced they will add nearly 2,000 mental health staff to serve the growing needs of Veterans," the spokesperson said. "The VA has also taken unprecedented steps to combat homelessness among veterans, and since President Obama took office, the ranks of homeless Veterans have fallen by 40,000 nationwide."

Strong work ethic

Golden Valley is the home of Honeywell's largest business unit, automation and controls, which accounted for about $15 billion of its $37 billion in revenue last year.

The division makes and services a range of environmental and security controls for homes and buildings, sensors for health care devices and software for refineries and wastewater treatment facilities.

Company spokesman Mark Hamel said the company has trained and hired veterans for a wide range of jobs -- from factory workers to plant managers to engineers.

Hamel said the company recruits veterans directly through branches of the military and through outside organizations such as Military Officers Association of America and The Officer Placement Corps. The company also recruits veterans through referrals from other employees.

"We find that their work ethic, their learning skills are a nice fit," Hamel said.

"They're definitely an important component of our recruitment efforts when we look out for the kind of talent we need to help our businesses succeed."

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683 jennifer.bjorhus@startribune.com Susan Feyder • 612-673-1723 sfeyder@startribune.com

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