President Obama’s visit to Newton on Earth Day showcased the town’s attempt at an economic comeback after the 2007 closure of Maytag. Obama stood to deliver his half-hour-long speech in the middle of a cavernous factory where Maytag washers and dryers once were made.
"And these floors were dark and silent. The only signs of a once thriving enterprise were the cement markings where the equipment had been before (it) was boxed up and carted away," Obama said. " And look at what we see here today."
Part of the Maytag plant on the north side of Newton has been renovated by Trinity Structural Towers and the plant’s producing the towers that support wind turbines. At one time nearly 4000 Newton-area residents were employed at the Maytag plant, and Obama noted the community is still going through some tough times.
"If you talk to your neighbors and friends, I know the community still hasn’t fully recovered from the loss of Maytag. Not everybody’s been rehired, but now more than 100 people will now be employed at this plant, maybe more if we keep on moving," Obama said. "Many of the same folks who had lost their jobs when Maytag shut its doors now are finding, once again, their ability to make great products."
The production line was shut down most of Wednesday for the president’s visit, but a few select workers started welding and turned some of the machines to show Obama what they do on a normal day.
Nearly 200 people were invited to listen in-person to Obama’s speech. A small group of Newton residents who worked for Obama before the 2008 Iowa Caucuses were in the crowd. Tracey Doonan of Newton was a precinct captain for Obama.
"I went around door-to-door, knocking on doors and meeting people and, you know, we’ve stayed together and this is what’s nice," Doonan said, gesturing to her fellow Obama campaign folks. "We formed friendships and there’ll be lasting friendship and we hope to go on, organizing for Obama and do more."
A number of Iowa’s Democratic political leaders were in the crowd, including Governor Culver. A select few got to speak privately with the president. Newton Mayor Chaz Allen, one of the select few, brought along a picture his seven-year-old daughter had colored, to get Obama’s autograph on the back. It’s a picture of one of the agents guarding Obama.
"I had her sign her name on the back, and then she drew a little, squiggly line for the ear piece for Secret Service," Allen said as he carefully showed reporters the picture, secured inside a folder he carried with him into the event.