Cars have always been a part of my life. I was raised with two brothers who loved cars and when we were kids, my sisters and I would hear the buzz about the coolest “this” and the fastest “that.” With all the car talk, one would think I would have become an engineer. Two of my sisters did and we joke it's how we got our “drive.”
By far though, my father played the most important role in my familiarity with cars. He taught me how to drive. He insisted that I learn with a stick shift. He told me that it would make me more independent – that it would take me further.
I thought about him when I visited Michigan’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant (where they are building the new Chevy Volt) and the Jeep Supplier Park plant in Toledo, Ohio recently. Both facilities have and continue to be a big beat to the hearts of their communities. And both are a testament to the success of the Obama Administration’s investments in auto communities across the country.
But while we’ve come a long way in the last two years – we too can go further.
These facilities represent what can be done when the interests of business and the well-being of hard working people are combined for a common good. Early on, this administration took immediate action on behalf of the auto community by providing necessary aid to GM and Chrysler, helping the two industry giants eliminate debts and get back to business. President Obama also created the White House Council on Automotive Communities – which I co-chair – to provide attention directly to workers and communities affected by dislocation in the auto industry.
The fact is this administration is addressing the needs of the auto industry from all levels: from the Department of Transportation’s “cash for clunkers” program, to the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loans, to my department’s investment of nearly $170 million to benefit thousands of auto-impacted workers and communities with training and education for next generation jobs.
We are beginning to see the fruits of this labor. Since auto companies have gotten back on their feet, the industry has added more than 63,000 jobs. And just recently, the Detroit “big three” reported that auto sales rose last year for the first time since the recession – a piece of much needed good news and something that has executives optimistic about the year ahead.
During my visits to Detroit and Toledo, I also had the opportunity to see two values that I care deeply about put into practice. After my visit to the Volt plant, I visited Flour Construction’s Heavy Oil Upgrader Project. I was impressed with the culture of safety there, evidenced not just by talking to the plant managers, but from the comments and enthusiasm of the workers. The next day, in Toledo, after driving a new Jeep off the assembly line, I dropped by the Willard and Kelsey Solar Group, a state-of-the-art facility that is making clean and green energy technology.
I came away from my two-day visit more optimistic than ever. Because I saw firsthand what I’ve believed for a very long time: When America builds, America goes further.
P.S. I should add that while in Toledo, I also had to stop at the famed Tony Packo’s restaurant. I’ve signed many things in my life. This was the first time I was asked to sign a hot dog bun!
Hilda Solis is the Secretary of Labor.