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WisBusiness: Obama talks economy in visit to Menomonee Falls battery company

MENOMONEE FALLS -- President Barack Obama today talked up his administration's efforts to jumpstart the economy, saying while the progress made hasn't been enough to undo damage done over the past decade, things are heading in the right direction.

He also slammed those in Washington, D.C., willing to abandon those efforts, demanding that they explain why clean energy jobs like the ones at ZBB Energy Corp. are better off in other countries than here in the United States.

Obama told workers at the Menomonee Falls manufacturer that the recession was the culmination of a decade that "fell like a sledgehammer on middle-class families" and hit manufacturing particularly hard.

Obama ticked off the investments his administration has made in the country's infrastructure, tax cuts for small businesses, and emergency steps to prevents the layoffs of hundreds of teachers, firefighters and police officers.

He held up ZBB as an example of what those measures can do, saying they helped the manufacturer of batteries and fuel cells from renewable resources to get a loan to expand its operations and hire or retain nearly 100 workers.

The $1.3 million Recovery Act State Energy Program loan will go to help fund a $4.5 million factory renovation that ZBB anticipates will triple its capacity to manufacture flow batteries and power systems.

Obama said the company was confident about expansion because of rising demand for advanced batteries.

"This is in part a result of steps we’ve taken in clean energy – steps that have led to jobs manufacturing wind turbines and solar panels, building hybrid and electric vehicles, and modernizing our electric grid so that it can use more renewable sources of energy," he said.

Obama said he was looking forward to U.S. companies playing a major role in energy products.

"See, when folks lift up the hoods on the cars of the future, I want them to see engines stamped 'Made in America,'" Obama said. "When new batteries to store solar power come off assembly lines, I want to see printed on the side, 'Made in America.' And when new technologies are developed with the potential to unleash new businesses -- and even whole new industries -- I want those products to be made in America."

An audience of about 100, including ZBB employees and others, heard the president's remarks, seated in white chairs before the president's podium, which rested on a low stage about 10 feet from the front row. Behind the podium on the factory floor were large cabinets housing batteries the company makes. They welcomed the president with a standing round of applause.

The president landed at Mitchell International Airport this morning and was greeted by Gov. Jim Doyle and his wife Jessica, along with U.S. Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl. He recognized Doyle and his wife, Feingold, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, and ZBB CEO Eric Apfelbach as he began his remarks.

Apfelbach, who is on the board of the Wisconsin Technology Council and previously worked as CEO of Virent Energy Systems, led Obama on his tour of the company.

A few people lined the streets of the business and industrial park that houses ZBB, hoping to get a glimpse of Obama's motorcade when it arrived.

- By WisBusiness Staff

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