If you listened to the State of the Union address, you heard President Obama mention talking to small businessowners in Elyria, Ohio. Brad Ohlemacher knows all about that visit - he is president of EMC Precision Machining, the machine shop where Obama spent a half hour on January 22 as part of his "White House to Main Street" tour.
EMC is a fourth-generation, family-owned company that produces complex precision metal components. Ohlemacher said the visit started with a call from the White House advance team on Saturday, six days before the president's tour. On Sunday, a team of five visited the site, one of several under consideration. By Monday, with EMC selected as the site that Obama would tour, the advance team had grown to 25 people.
The advance team and the Secret Service walked through the facility, establishing where people would greet him, where he would walk, and what he would see. While noting that the advance team was "very respectful," Ohlemacher said it was impossible not to have the operation disrupted by the visit. For one thing, the brooms and paint brushes came out for what is considered an already exceptionally clean work environment. As Ohlemacher noted, "How often are you on the world stage?" Employees found out about the visit on Tuesday so there was an air of excitement and anticipation during the week. On the day of the visit, everyone had to leave the building and every single door, cabinet, toolbox or device had to be unlocked in preparation for the security sweep.
When the president arrived, Brad and his brother, EMC CEO Jeff Ohlemacher, met with him to express their concerns about operating in a tough economic climate. During the recession, EMC had to cut its workforce from 77 to 44 employees. "We tried to emphasize the importance of manufacturing, and our concerns about cost control in the form of such things as energy, health care costs, raw material costs. We spent a fair amount of time discussing access to capital and the fact banks need to do a better job of lending money."
"Energy costs have increased but not as much as we've heard they could," said Ohlemacher. Of more immediate concern have been rising costs for steel, and potential shortages of raw materials that have forced the company to find ways around supply delays. "Our customers expect us to ship tomorrow. When we say it will be three weeks from now, that is a huge problem."
Ohlemacher said the president was in "learning mode" during their discussion and that remarks he made later that day at a town hall meeting reflected the fact he had been paying attention to their comments.
Ohlemacher said it was an "extreme honor" to have Obama visit EMC, and a unique opportunity to promote the firm through the visit's publicity and discuss with the country's leader the concerns affecting not just his company but many small manufacturers. He said EMC seems to have hit bottom last May and June,and has seen a gradual recovery since then, with orders "picking up steam in the last few weeks."