Waukesha officials honored to be at Obama event

Todd Ponath
President Barack Obama signs an executive order providing federal money for job training programs at the Waukesha Engine Gas Engines facility Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014.
Published on: 1/31/2014

President Barack Obama used Waukesha's General Electric Gas Engines manufacturing plant’s initiatives as an example for the rest of the country to follow during his speech Thursday morning. 

He also addressed looking to increase the minimum wage nationwide, getting more skilled workers employed with proper job training, to wage equality for women. Here is a transcript of his near 30-minute speech.

The speech brought out many politicians and business leaders from the Milwaukee and Waukesha area.

These included Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas and Waukesha County Board Chairman Paul Decker.

It also included former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, Common Council President Terry Thieme (a City of Waukesha mayoral candidate) and Waukesha County Board Supervisor Michael Crowley, who was invited by GE President Brian White. I caught up with these three briefly after Obama’s speech. 

Terry Thieme

Q: How did you get invited?

A: What ended up happening is when the mayor declined the invitation I ended up calling the Secret Service, they hooked me up with the White House staff and I said I’d like to represent the city being the Common Council president. They said Terry this is Tuesday so they said we need two hours to do a background check. I said I understand, so just go ahead and email your information in and we’ll see what we can do. Last night the Waukesha Police Department called and they said ‘Hey the White House staff has been trying to get a hold of you, call this number.’ I did and they said we got your invitation. I felt that it was important that the City of Waukesha be represented.

Q: President Obama talked about how GE has formed an entrepreneurship partnership with Waukesha County schools to give them real-life experience. What did you think about that?

A: Friends of ours are involved in that. Their company is partnering with the schools on a trade. I think that’s just wonderful. This goes to show you if you put politics aside, you work together for the common good, good things will happen and I think that’s very important.

Q: Talk about leaders from Milwaukee and Waukesha being here.

A: I got to meet Mayor Barrett; I’ve never met him before (and) County Executive Abele. I met a lot of good connections that we can try to partner with after I’m elected mayor. I think missing these opportunities is not a good thing. This is just an example of the partnerships I want to try to foster after I’m elected mayor.

Michael Crowley

Q: What did you think of the speech?

A: To hear the president talk about economic development, jobs, creating jobs that’s important to Waukesha, Waukesha County, this state and for this country. From an economic standpoint, I was interested in his message.

Q: What about the entrepreneurship programs he talked about for students that GE is doing?

A: Anything that helps students I’m for. We’ll see how this plans rolls out and how it works, but it’s a start.

Q: This visit sure puts Waukesha in the spotlight, doesn’t it?

A: Yes, we’re very fortunate for us to have a president of the United States to Waukesha and put us in the limelight on a national perspective. GE’s a great company, great employees are here and I was here to support the employees, support the president of GE and also represent the county. It’s a mutual respect for the president of the United States and the White House. Any elected official should welcome the president to their community so I was proud to be here to represent our community.

Q: Where is Waukesha with job growth?

A: We have a lot of job growth in the City of Waukesha and within the Waukesha County area. We can’t find enough skilled employees to fill the skilled manufacturing jobs that are available. There’s over 1,000 manufacturing jobs available in this area, well-paying jobs.

Jim Doyle

Q: What did you think of the president’s message, today?

A: I thought it was exactly right. To me, it was a very practical, very direct, down to Earth approach to things and one that I would guess if you took the politics out of it, 95 percent of America would agree with. So I really hope that as it moves forward is successful and I think a lot of people will benefit from.

Q: Obama talked about getting students involved into manufacturing and how Waukesha County can be used as a model. What did you think about that?

A: I know (there) is a great technical college in Waukesha, we have a great technical college system and I know Waukesha, in fact, has been a leader in really giving very tailored kind of training for people that need it, so I thought it was very fitting that he recognized the college.

Q: Talk about GE and what it has done for the community.

A: GE is a fabulous part of this state. From its medical equipment business, to its big engines. So it’s a very important part of us, so it’s great that he’s here.

We'll have a complete recap of the event that will include comments from a longtime GE employee who was among those who showed Obama around the facility and comments from Suzanne Kelley, president of the Waukesha County Business Alliance, which helped start the partnership between schools in the county and manufacturing facilities, in our publication next week and online.

In the meantime, here's a photo gallery from the event by photographer Todd Ponath.