Facing fresh criticism of his handling of the economy, President Barack Obama travels to Michigan on Thursday to promote investments in the electric vehicle battery industry, a sector the administration sees as a bright spot in the sagging recovery.
Obama will attend a groundbreaking ceremony for a plant that will manufacture advanced batteries for Chevrolet and Ford electric cars. The Compact Power plant in Holland, Mich., is the ninth factory to begin construction following the $2.4 billion investment in advanced batteries and electric vehicles Obama announced last August.
An Energy Department report to be released Thursday says the investments will increase U.S. production of advanced batteries from 2 percent to 40 percent of the world's supply by 2015, creating thousands of jobs along the way.
"We're going to build these products in America," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Wednesday. "We're going to employ Americans. I think that's a strong economic record."
But recent polls suggest the public's confidence in the president's record on the economy is slipping. A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted this month found that just 43 percent of Americans approved of Obama's handling of the economy, down from 50 percent last month.
With unemployment expected to hover near 10 percent through November's midterm elections, White House officials know they will have a tough sell with voters as they argue that the economy would be even worse had it not been for Obama's $862 billion stimulus program.
Investing in electric vehicles has been a central tenet of Obama's message on the economy and clean energy. He's pledged to put 1 million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015. The administration has said the $2.4 billion investment could spur the production of 50,000 batteries a year for plug-in hybrids by 2011 and 500,000 batteries a year for the advanced vehicles by late 2014.
Most of the batteries are now manufactured in Asia, and auto suppliers and manufacturers have sought ways to expand the battery industry in the United States.
Michigan is the largest recipient of the electric battery grants and is expected to receive more than $1 billion. About $150 million of that is going to the Compact Power plant. Administration officials say the construction project will create about 300 jobs, with an additional 300 workers hired once the factory is operational.
With Michigan facing 13.7 percent unemployment, the state's governor says those jobs are welcome news.
"It's clearly going to have an impact if we have a whole new sector added to our economy," Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm said. "It's not the only answer, but it certainly is a significant one."