PROUD WORKER: Mike Hopkins talks to a reporter while waiting for President Barack Obama to arrive for a speech at a Chrysler transmission plant in Kokomo. Reacting to news of Chrysler’s planned $843 million investment in the community, Hopkins said he was proud of the fact that local workers had been given the opportunity to build world-class transmissions.

A year ago, Dave Rush was laid off from Chrysler with an uncertain future. Today, he is building a new house in Howard County.

Rush was among several hundred local Chrysler workers who gave President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden a warm welcome Tuesday at Kokomo’s Indiana Transmission Plant II.

Along with those workers who listened to the remarks of Obama and Biden in person, about 250 workers watched the speeches on TV inside the plant.

Workers learned Chrysler would invest an additional $843 million in the community, raising its total for the year to $1.1 billion.

“We’re excited about it,” Rush said of the new house being constructed. “The trickle-down effect is taking place because we’ve employed local people.”

Rush said criticism of the Obama administration is unfounded when it comes to the loans.

“Could you imagine if we would have failed, today I would be on the street,” he said. “The president gave Chrysler a hand up. Look at what we’re putting back in the community. Unbelievable he is being criticized for that — and we’re paying the money back.

“If not for that, this plant would be closed. I’m ecstatic to be working,”  Rush said.

He said workers were excited and upbeat when it was announced the president and vice president would visit the plant.

Of the investment, Rush said it’s better here than going outside of Kokomo.

“We’re selling more overseas, in places we’ve never sold before,” he said. “They want us to work hard and to succeed.”

Among the Chrysler workers who saw the speech in person was Logansport’s Mike Hopkins. On learning of plans for the new line, Hopkins said he was proud of the fact that local workers had been given the opportunity to build world-class transmissions.

“The investment is very exciting,” he said. “It’s a vote of confidence with the things taking place within the Indiana Transmission Plant and the Chrysler community here in Kokomo.”

Sharon Ybarra was singled out by Obama as a new hire at Chrysler.

Ybarra said she previously worked in Marion for a communications company and was having a difficult time finding employment before landing the job at Chrysler.

“When I heard he was coming, I just wanted to thank him for my job,” she said. “I’ve tried to get on at Chrysler for 30 years and finally got the opportunity.”

Ybarra said she received a hug from Obama and thanked him.

“He said, ‘You’re welcome,’” she said.

“I was shocked when I was singled out,” Ybarra continued. “Shocked when I saw a seat with my name on it and wondered what was going on.”

Ybarra said she believed the loan to Chrysler last year was a good idea.

“A lot of my family works for Chrysler, and they were afraid they were going to close,” she said. “They were on the brink.”

Matt Harvey, a 10-year supervisor with Chrysler, said the visit impressed him.

“I was surprised the president and vice president were here together,” he said. “It means a lot. This is great for Chrysler.”

Harvey said he was morally and mentally torn by the government loans to Chrysler.

“I hadn’t really come to a conclusion,” he said. “I appreciate the fact that I still have a job with a good company.”

Harvey agreed it was a possibility the plants would have closed without the government loans.

“It was kind of upsetting that the banks and Wall Street got theirs for as little as they contribute, and people who create a tangible product had to wait,” he said. “I hope we can live up to it.”

Harvey said there were generations of transmission builders in Kokomo, and the investment shows confidence in those skills.

Sandra Purcell was out of work for two years and has worked a total of 10 years for Chrysler.

“This means job security, hopefully no more layoffs, more hiring,”  she said of the announcement.

Purcell said the visit by Obama and Biden was a well-kept secret, adding she supported the candidates in 2008.

“There has been unfair criticism of the president,” she said. “We needed the help. There have been other people that the government has lent money to. We needed the help to get on our feet and be able to boost the economy.”

Blaine Conwell said he was worried about the future after being out of work for seven months. Today, he’s excited about another new transmission line in Kokomo.

“It was the first I’ve heard of a new investment,” he said. “More people to be hired, more future business, and I can get my 30 years in and retire from this place.

“These people are really dedicated,” Conwell said of the new Chrysler management team and his fellow employees. “When I first came to this plant, no one was depressed, everyone was eager to work and go out of their way to get things done.”

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