Vice president to visit Minnesota; will tout economic stimulus

President-elect Obama holds first press conference
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

The town hall meeting will take place at the New Flyer Bus Co. in St. Cloud. Biden's office says the company was chosen for its innovations in powering transit buses with low-emission, alternative energy.

New Flyer is the largest heavy duty bus company in North America, with operations in both the U.S. and Canada. It's been around since 1930 and employs 650 people in St. Cloud.

One reason for holding the town hall there is that, unlike many companies right now, New Flyer is actually growing -- it hired 90 people last year and plans to hire more soon. It has a three- to-four-year backlog of orders, worth more than $4 billion.

Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden speaks at an inauguration event in Washington DC in January. He will visit St. Cloud on Thursday to promote the Obama administration's economic stimulus package.

President and CEO Paul Soubry, speaking from his office in Canada, says he was surprised to hear from the White House. But now that the shock has worn off, he says it makes sense that the administration would want to highlight the company's work in green technology.

Public transportation funding is a key part of the Obama administration's $787 billion economic stimulus package. New Flyer stands to benefit from this funding because it's the largest supplier of public transit buses.

"The need for and the desire of the government to invest in companies and industries and technologies and infrastructure that will help restart the economy, specifically in shovel-ready projects," Soubry said, "where we can convert options into firm orders quicker, and continue to ramp up our business."

Soubry says the company's already gotten a lot of new business in the few weeks since the stimulus bill passed.

"The number of inquiries, bids, proposals, initiatives, analysis that's going on -- to look at how to convert that kind of investment into very, very quick return for job creation and retention -- is very encouraging," Soubry said.

With suppliers in 23 states, Soubry says New Flyer's growth has a huge ripple effect.

Another ripple effect could be political.

The St. Cloud plant sits in U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's 6th Congressional District. Bachman, a Republican, has been a vocal critic of the economic recovery package, saying it is part of a Democratic conspiracy to direct funding away from Republican districts.

"This is about growing big government and funding every pet cause that the Democrats have had for the last 40 years," said Bachmann in February on KLTK radio's Chris Baker show. "And they can't wait to get this money through so they can start spending it on their favorite constituencies."

Bachmann was re-elected in November 2008 in a race that became competitive only in the last few weeks of the campaign.

But Washington University professor Steven Smith says the next congressional elections are still a ways off. He says holding the town hall at New Flyer in St. Cloud isn't about silencing Michele Bachmann.

The administration is more concerned with selling its program to voters nationally.

"This is a company that is doing extremely well in bad times," Smith said. "It's developing green technologies in an important area -- transportation, and that they really care more about those considerations than local politics."

Smith says this message will also help pave the way for the president's upcoming energy initiatives.

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