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Cleveland Businesses Tell Obama How He Can Help

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Ohio is a perennial battleground in White House politics, so President Obama spends a lot of time here. Each time he visits Cleveland, Mr. Obama says, he sees more evidence this once-Rust Belt city is reinventing itself.

BARACK OBAMA: Not only are big things happening here, but they're emblematic of what's happening all across the Midwest and all across the country.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says he came to Cleveland to learn more. He wanted to hear directly from more than 100 local entrepreneurs about their success stories and their frustrations.

OBAMA: What would make it easier for you to grow? What would make it easier for you to create new jobs? How can America help you succeed so that you can help America succeed?

HORSLEY: Phil Davis's company makes miniature microwave ovens, and he thinks he could sell a lot in Europe if he could afford a retool for the continent's different voltage requirements.

PHIL DAVIS: That little bit of capital would help us grow.

HORSLEY: Youngstown businessman Michael Garvey is updating the company his grandfather started, shifting from bronze castings to precision measurement and manufacturing. Garvey says that demands a more educated workforce.

MICHAEL GARVEY: You know, you can't win if you don't have the horses. So you have to have the horses in the stable to win.

HORSLEY: Cleveland's business development efforts are concentrated in areas like biotech and advanced energy. But not everyone at yesterday's meeting was so high-tech. Joe Maceli runs his family's cheese business. Thanks to a recent SBA loan, which Mr. Obama called one of the government's tastiest investments, Maceli will soon be able to double his production of ricotta cheese.

JOE MACELI: We're looking at adding about 60 jobs, and it will make Cleveland the ricotta capital of the world.

HORSLEY: CEO Rebecca Bagley says the big, industrial manufacturers that used to dominate Cleveland didn't leave a lot of room or reason for entrepreneurial upstarts. But that economic culture is changing.

REBECCA BAGLEY: We're coming out of the recession better than we went into it. So it's a really exciting time, I think, to be in northeast Ohio.

HORSLEY: While President Obama underlines the government's role in that excitement, Republicans counter the less the government does, the better. That disagreement is sure to play out in upcoming budget battles, though Mr. Obama all but glossed over it yesterday.

OBAMA: There's no room for division between business and labor and Democrats and Republicans. When it comes to competing for jobs and industries, we are on one team, and that is the American team. We will rise and fall together.

HORSLEY: Scott Horsley, NPR News, Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.