Kevin Foster said President Barack Obama's visit to Prince George County, Va., Friday was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for his two children to see a sitting president just five minutes from their home.
He may have been right.
Jim Guyette, president and CEO of Rolls-Royce North America, told an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,000 that Obama was the first president to visit Prince George since William Howard Taft in 1909. Obama spoke about the economy and touted partnerships between universities and advanced manufacturing facilities at Rolls-Royce Crosspointe, which manufactures discs for jet engines.
Foster, a Republican, said Obama's appearance in a battleground state just three days after its GOP presidential primary was “probably a strategic move on his part,” but he was happy to see the president no matter what the circumstances were. In 2008, Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Virginia in 44 years.
“You have to have respect for the position he holds, whether you are Democrat or Republican,” said Foster, who brought his 11-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son to the event. “We're here to show support for Rolls-Royce, plus it's a significant historical event for my two kids.”
Charles Baugh, an attorney at Rolls-Royce North America in northern Virginia, was one of hundreds of company employees in the crowd.
“It's exciting to see Rolls-Royce recognized for being a global company instead of just someone's idea of a luxury automobile,” he said
The state-of-the-art, $170 million Crosspointe plant opened last year, creating 150 jobs. Many of the employees stood on risers behind Obama as he spoke following a brief tour of the cavernous plant.
Obama praised the plant, and its partnership with John Tyler Community College, as the type of advanced manufacturing facility that will return the United States to dominance in the global economy.
“I want to make stuff here and sell it over there,” Obama said. “And that's exactly what you're doing here, at the largest Rolls-Royce facility in the world.”
He said a key to will be education-manufacturing partnerships like the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, which will open this summer with the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University supplying the brain power.
Obama also mentioned new jobs that will be created by Rolls-Royce, including more than 100 at the 1,000-acre Crosspointe site.
Guyette said in an interview before Obama's speech that a $100 million-plus expansion will add turbine blade manufacturing to Crosspointe's repertoire. He said the facility could open in 2014, and he also hopes to lure a couple of the company's suppliers to the site.
“This is going to be a campus, an advanced manufacturing zone,” he said.
Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who attended the event along with Democratic U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott of the 3rd District, said he agreed with Obama's message that the U.S. can be the global leader in manufacturing. However, he said there are some differences between the president and Republicans on how to get there. The first step, he said, should be easing the regulatory burden on businesses.
“This is going to be the issue Mitt Romney and the president will be talking about -- who has the best vision to re-establish the American dream,” said McDonnell, who has endorsed Romney for the GOP nomination.
Earlier in the day, McDonnell greeted Obama at the Richmond airport and presented him a “Virginia Is For Lovers” golf glove.
“We had a nice moment together,” he said.