obama indatus

After a delay of roughly four hours, President Barack Obama apologized to the small crowd eager to hear him speak at the downtown Louisville headquarters of tech company Indatus on Thursday.

“Well, first of all, sorry I’m late,” said Obama. “I had a couple things I had to do.”

One of those “things” being his announcement in the White House rose garden of a major breakthrough in negotiations with Iran to prevent their ability to build a nuclear weapon, which in turn might prevent America from being involved in yet another large-scale war in the region. The crowd, made up of Indatus employees and select city leaders, certainly had no hard feelings for the commander-in-chief.

The purpose of Obama’s visit was to tout the Code Louisville project, which recently received a $2.9 million federal workforce innovation grant to expand its free training in computer software coding. Indatus is one of 20 local companies pledging to hire those who have gone through the training, which does not require a college degree.

President Barack Obama tours Indatus (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Barack Obama tours Indatus | Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

After briefly touring the Indatus facility and speaking with employees — noting that “everything is so hip and cool, and guys with, like, cool beards are typing” — the president said he wanted the rest of the country to emulate a model such as Louisville’s, where employers and local government come together to provide faster and cheaper alternative training targeted at filling the jobs where there are few qualified candidates.

“Right now, America has more open jobs than at any point since 2001,” said Obama. “And more than half a million openings are in tech — nearly 2,000 here in Louisville alone. Tech jobs pay one-and-a-half times the average private sector wage, so they’re great pathways to the middle class.”

Obama’s priority for providing additional funding for such training through his TechHire initiative is reflected in his proposed federal budget. However, he warned that congressional Republicans just proposed a new budget plan that would cut job training for 2.2 million people, including 28,800 in Kentucky, while giving tax cuts for the extremely wealthy.

“We can’t prioritize tax cuts for folks at the very top and sacrifice the kinds of job-training efforts and apprenticeships that our young people are going to need,” said Obama.

Though he touted businesses creating 12 million new jobs over the last five years, the president closed by adding that middle-class incomes have not grown with them.

Congressman John Yarmuth flew with President Obama on Air Force One to Louisville, praising him for highlighting this issue.

“I don’t know what could make more sense than that — that we want to help train and educate people for the open jobs that exist now and will exist in the future,” said Yarmuth.

While on the flight back, Obama had a phone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Bebe Netanyahu on the tentative nuclear agreement reached with Iran. Yarmuth told Insider Louisville that he discussed the call with the president and that the deal is great news that could prevent using military force with Iran, which would be “disastrous.”

“We talked a little bit about it,” said Yarmuth. “I think that the president expects me to hold that in confidence. Any deal is going to be hard for Netanyahu to accept, but I think the president made the case that the alternatives to this would not be nearly as effective in holding off a potential Iranian nuclear threat as this deal. I don’t know if the president thinks he convinced Netanyahu.”

While Obama’s Louisville event was attended by such local political figures as Yarmuth, Gov. Steve Beshear, Mayor Greg Fischer and Metro Council President David Tandy, several notable Democratic figures were absent. Statewide candidates such as presumptive gubernatorial nominee Jack Conway, state Auditor Adam Edelen, and attorney general candidate Andy Beshear were elsewhere, saying — if they are to be believed — they had other events to attend and were not intentionally snubbing the president with low approval ratings in Kentucky.

Yarmuth said he was proud to visit with the president as he visited his city, but could at least understand the rationale of those Democrats who did not attend.

“I understand why they don’t want to have their picture taken with him,” said Yarmuth. “Politically the president is not particularly popular outside of Louisville. But he is the president of the United States and I’m proud that he’s in the district. I’m not going to talk about anybody else’s political calculations. Campaigns do funny things to people.”

Gov. Beshear told IL that he appreciates Obama’s efforts on workforce development and the federal government’s investment in that area. Asked if Kentuckians should like the president more than public opinion polls reflect, Beshear said he thought “the president in many ways is doing a great job, particularly on the economy. Obviously, we have disagreements over energy policy — and when I disagree we let him know — but obviously when we agree we work together.”

Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]