LAKE ORION — Lines of employees entered the Lake Orion General Motors Assembly plant this afternoon to hear President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak speak about the future of the automotive industry.
After touring the GM facility, Obama and Lee highlighted Congress’s newly approved trade agreement between the United States and South Korea that will offer economic opportunities and jobs in both countries. The agreement is expected to ensure the creation of 70,000 American jobs and lessen tariffs on U.S. goods sold in South Korea.
Around 2.p.m, in the midst of a thunderous applause, Obama took the microphone and spoke of how the agreement — the first trade deal passed by Congress since 2007 — will benefit the U.S. He admitted past mistakes mostly centered on the amount of debt the U.S. has accrued and the lack of job production in recent years.
“In the last decade we became a country that was known for what we bought and what we consumed,” Obama said.
But Obama also talked about a brighter future.
“To right the wrongs, I am determined to rebuild this economy based on what this country has always done best — not buying and consuming, but building — making things, selling those good all around the world stamped with three proud words: Made in America,” he said.
Obama continued by emphasizing the recovery of Detroit’s decrepit automotive industry. He highlighted the Lake Orion GM plant, which reopened in January after closing in 2009 and laying off 1,700 employees.
“(Detroit) is a city where great American industry is coming back to life … and a city where people are thinking of ways to prove all the skeptics wrong,” he said.
With the agreement between the U.S. and South Korea, companies like GM will be successful around the world, Obama said. An increase in the sale of goods and services abroad, he said, will spur the creation of jobs closer to home. And for every $1 million made, it is projected that thousands of jobs will be maintained in the U.S.
“We’re going to invest in your future because we believe in American-built,” Obama said. “But most importantly, we believe in American workers. And today, I can stand here and say the investment paid off.”
Though it took longer than some expected to create the agreement, Obama said, the additional time helped clinch a “win-win” situation for the U.S., South Korea and the United Auto Workers.
Preceding Obama’s speech, Lee discussed his rise to the top — from a plant worker to a CEO of Hyundai Construction in South Korea — and wide range of expertise in various fields of the automotive sector that will play a crucial part in his plans to improve the industry in South Korea and the U.S. Lee recalled his first meeting with Obama three years ago and the desire Obama had to improve the U.S. automotive industry.
“We all know that the U.S. auto industry was, and is, a leader in the world, and President Obama was concerned with what we can do to revive Motor City,” Lee said.
This restoration began at the Lake Orion plant about three years ago when it worked with a facility in South Korea to build models and manufacture cars, according to Lee. He said he believes Detroit is the place to produce new cars because of its rich history — a history he believes is far from finished.
“Motor City is going to come back again, and it’s going to revive its past glory …” Lee told the crowd. “You are going to do that.”
Bob King, United Auto Workers president, said in an address at the event that he fully supports the agreement and believes it will have a positive impact on the national and international automotive industry because of its expected job creation.
King added that “it’s exciting” to see the increase in knowledge and use of U.S. automobile brands around the world since Obama took office.
“It’s a different mindset than it was five years ago,” he said.
Along with the economic advantages, King said the agreement will help address working standards and evaluate minimum wages in other countries to “produce a level playing field.”
“The other thing that’s really important about this agreement is that it really specifically addresses international labor standards — international labor organization standards — and gives protection in the agreement to workers’ rights,” King said.
Darryl Webb, a sanitation worker and one of about 100 plant employees who were given access to today’s event, said he has worked at the facility for four years and believes the agreement will truly help the working class.
“We need more factories like this to wake up,” Webb said. “I’ve seen so many factories close. This is a beautiful thing.”
Shawnette Davis, an assembly line worker who has worked at the Lake Orion factory since 2008 — with the exception of the duration the plant was closed — said she was “blown away” by Obama’s visit and his optimism for the agreement’s ability to bring jobs back to Michigan.
“This was the best experience I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Davis said.