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Barack Obama will visit Chattanooga on Tuesday for the first time as president to pitch his vision of helping expand middle-class jobs.
Obama will tour the 1 million-square-foot distribution center Amazon opened in the Enterprise Industrial Park two years ago. The fulfillment center in Chattanooga employs 1,800 full-time workers and is among five facilities Amazon has built in Tennessee since 2011 that collectively have added more than 5,000 full-time and seasonal jobs in the Volunteer State -- the biggest job addition in the state by a private company in the past decade.
Obama will use the Amazon expansion to help highlight what he says is an improving economy but one that needs to do more to help boost the middle class.
In a speech Wednesday in Galesburg, Ill., Obama cast himself as the champion for middle-class Americans struggling to make ends meet. He chided Washington for having "taken its eye off the ball" and declared that the economy would be the "highest priority" of his second term.
White House officials said Tuesday's speech will focus on manufacturing and high wage jobs for durable economic growth. The president is expected to promote his budget proposals to jumpstart private sector jobs with more infrastructure and education spending in the federal budget.
But Republicans object to what they see as too many government regulations and too much deficit spending by the Obama administration, which they say has failed to restore the U.S. economy. Nearly three years after the end of the Great Recession, the U.S. unemployment rate remains at a stubbornly high 7.6 percent.
"President Obama has presided over the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression, so a visit to a right-to-work state like Tennessee to learn a thing or two in how to get things done should be expected," Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said. "Thanks to Republicans, we've cut taxes, balanced our budget, and have the lowest debt of any state in the union."
GOP leaders said Tennessee's economic record shows that Republicans have better ideas for economic growth.
"There's no doubt, and it doesn't surprise me, that a sitting president whose economic policies who haven't really worked at all would be coming to a city like Chattanooga, where leaders like Sens. [Bob] Corker and [Lamar] Alexander, Gov. [Bill] Haslam and Congressman [Chuck] Fleischmann have developed an economic dynamic that is the shining star of the country," Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Tony Sanders said in a statement Wednesday night.
But Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairperson Terry Lee said Obama's visit to Chattanooga is part of his effort "to reach out to the heartland and check the temperature of the country."
"We've been through a difficult time over the last eight years," he said. "We've had a recovery that started and has affected all Americans in our communities."
While Chattanooga has added nearly 6,000 net new jobs over the past two years, the 8.2 percent jobless rate in Hamilton County and the 8.5 percent unemployment rate in all of Tennessee remains above the U.S. average.
Amazon, the world's biggest Internet retailer, has helped cut the jobless rate in Chattanooga and nearly 40 other sites where it operates fulfillment centers similar to the one in Chattanooga. Nationwide, the company employs more than 20,000 full-time workers at such distribution centers, most of which have opened in the past decade.
"We are honored to host President Obama at our Chattanooga fulfillment center," Amazon spokesperson Mary Osako said Wednesday night.
Although Bill Clinton did not visit Chattanooga as president, the past three Republican presidents -- George W. Bush, George H. Bush and Ronald Reagan all made visits and speeches in the Scenic City.
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