Riding the tailwinds of positive economic news, President Barack Obama swept into Charlotte on Friday to tout his jobs program and efforts to kindle growth.
"We are beginning to turn the corner," Obama told an audience at the Charlotte Celgard plant, where advanced battery components are made. "The worst of the storm is over; brighter days are still ahead."
Obama's Good Friday visit came as the Labor Department said that employers added 162,000 non-farm payroll jobs in March, the best growth since the recession began in Dec. 2007 and the strongest sign yet that the U.S. economy is on the mend.
Unemployment held steady at 9.7 percent in March, and the weak construction sector added jobs, but the Labor Department estimated that a record 6.4 million Americans have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer.
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Unemployment in the Charlotte area is nearly at 13 percent, the highest jobless rate in two decades.
Celgard, established 25 years ago, makes parts for lithium-ion batteries, used in everything from computers to hybrid cars. Celgard, approved for $49 million in federal stimulus money, employs about 400 workers in southwest Charlotte and has announced plans to add about 300 jobs and a plant in Concord.
Despite the news on the national employment scene, Obama said the recovery will be a long process. "We've still got a long ways to go eight million people have lost jobs over the last two years — that's a staggering sum."
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