President talks jobs in Ohio

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 22, 2004

TOLEDO (AP) - Mike Potter admitted he felt lost when the factory he worked at for nine years closed a little over a year ago.

Now he's got a better paying job after he completed a worker training program at a community college.

''People don't just want to see a person with just one skill anymore, they want several skills,'' Potter said Wednesday while sharing the stage with President Bush.

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The president came to Ohio, a state critical to his 2004 re-election campaign, to promote a proposal to spend more money to train workers for high-tech jobs in a changing economy.

Hours after his State of the Union speech, he called for $250 million for programs to train workers at community colleges and match them with employers.

Bush acknowledged that these are ''troubled times'' for manufacturing in Ohio.

''The key is training people for jobs that exist,'' Bush said at Owens Community College, a two-year school where there is increasing demand for training in computer and health care fields.

Bush now has been to Ohio 14 times during his first term. He won the state by just 3.5 percentage points in 2000. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio.

In the last three years, nearly 250,000 jobs - most in manufacturing - have been lost in Ohio, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate has jumped from 3.9 percent to 5.7 percent.

''In Ohio, there are still troubled times,'' he said. ''The manufacturing sector is sluggish at best. People are looking for work.''

But the president said the economy was moving in the right direction, pointing out that interest and inflation rates are low and that exports are on the rise.

''There's no doubt things are getting better,'' Bush said. ''The economy is changing because of technology.''

He also noted that there were worker shortages in technology and health care, saying that training is needed before workers can fill the jobs. He added that some people are being left behind ''because they lack the skills to cope with changing technology.''

To remedy that, Bush wants community colleges to train workers for new fields. Owens in the last year has trained 18,000 workers for new jobs.

How far the $250 million in worker training money the president proposed would go is not clear.

All 1,100 community colleges across the nation would be eligible for the grants.

Terry Thomas, executive director of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges, said the money would be welcomed because the state and federal government now provide very little for worker training.

''It's significant and it will help,'' Thomas said. ''But you have to realize it has limits too. I wouldn't want to overplay the importance of it.''

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, who traveled to Toledo with Bush, said it's important to note that the president recognizes there are problems with the economy.

''Manufacturing is under siege,'' Voinovich said. ''He's listening. A leader must recognize there's a problem. Too often leaders don't recognize there's a problem.''

Voinovich said Bush's emphasis on educating workers and reducing health care costs will go toward helping manufacturers.

About 300 protesters stood in temperatures that dipped into the single digits and set up an oversized, inflatable rat bearing the sign, ''Where are the jobs?''