CEDAR RAPIDS — President Barack Obama waxed nostalgic during his return to Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, but only long enough to say his time in Iowa still guides his blueprint for an “economy built to last.”
The morning after delivering his third State of the Union speech that laid out four pillars — made in America manufacturing, American energy, raising educational levels and fair play — Obama flew into Cedar Rapids to repeat that message in front of about 400 people at Conveyor Engineering & Manufacturing.
“It is great to be back in Iowa, although it is a little colder here than it was in Washington,” the president said.
It was 26 degrees when Obama arrived at The Eastern Iowa Airport, where he was greeted by Gov. Terry Branstad and Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. He jogged across the tarmac and spent a minute shaking hands with about 40 people outside the DHL terminal. It was about 10 degrees warmer in Washington.
All the political excitement in Iowa in recent months while Republicans campaigned for the presidential nomination “kind of made me nostalgic,” Obama said and recalled fondly the time he spent in Iowa before winning the 2008 Democratic precinct caucuses.
The conversations he had with Iowans still guide his presidency, he said, and helped shape his blueprint for the future, and the effort he’s witnessed in Cedar Rapids flood recovery gives Obama confidence in the strength of the values needed to rebuild America.
“When I think about all the days I spent in Iowa, so much of my presidency, so much about what I care about, so much what I think about every day, has to do with the conversations that I had with you … people’s backyards, VFW halls. Those conversations I carry with me,” Obama said.
Those conversations revolved around a central belief in “that when we come together as a country, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that basic American promise, that if you work hard, you can do well.”
“Generations of Americans worked together, and looked out for each other, and believed that we’re stronger when we rise together,” he said, adding that those values are neither Democratic nor Republican, but “American values … values we have to return to.”
Obama said he has confidence those values continue to exist when he looks at “what you’ve accomplished coming back from those floods” — a reference to the ongoing recovery since the 2008 floods that devastated parts of Cedar Rapids.
“Now, that wasn’t a matter of just each person being on their own,” Obama said as his audience applauded. “It was a matter of everybody pulling together to rebuild a city and make it stronger than it was before. That’s how we work.”
However, flood concerns continue. The audience was quiet when Obama mentioned the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but then applauded when he said that “as a country … we decide, you know what, when any part of the country gets in trouble, we’re going to step in and help out.”
Iowa U.S. Reps. Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley, both Democrats, used their time with the president on the flight to Cedar Rapids to emphasize the importance of continued support to ensure Cedar Rapids and all communities affected by the 2008 flood fully recover.
“It is as important as ever that we don’t lose sight of the needs of the families, businesses and communities that were so badly damaged,” Loebsack said. “I stressed the need for continued support in order for Iowa to rebuild stronger and more resilient than before.”
Cedar Rapids is still recovering, Braley said. He told the president of “the challenges the people of Cedar Rapids are still facing, and urged him to ensure FEMA expedites the approval of projects.”
As he did in his State of the Union message, Obama spent much of his time talking about manufacturing and the need to assist companies like Conveyor Engineering & Manufacturing, which started in a Shueyville garage 35 years ago and has doubled in size twice over the last 16 years.
Before his speech, Obama toured the plant at 1345 76th Ave. SW. President Graig Cone and Operations Manager Jeff Baxter showed him a variety of products.
Employee Kris Kvach showed Obama a stainless steel food-grade screw press, an auger used by food processing companies, such as Hershey, to move cocoa and other materials. The company also makes augers used in ethanol, meat packing and chemical plants and grain handling facilities.
“I take a grinder and rub on it for about 20 hours,” Kvach said when the president asked what he did.
“It would take me about two years,” Obama joked.
As he waited to show Obama another auger, Dale Muldoon, a 26-year employee, said it’s been hectic at the plant during preparations for the for the presidential visit.
“Kind of exciting at the same time,” Muldoon added.
PHOTO GALLERY of Obama’s visit: