CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said Wednesday the economy was rebounding after nearly "falling off a cliff" a few years ago, and credited President Barack Obama's policies for the turnaround.
While he said the economy was improving, he warned there were still challenges ahead.
"We're still living with tremendous damage caused by the crisis ... and all the scars of the crisis will take a long time to heal," he said.
Geithner visited Charlotte the day after the president's State of the Union address and toured a Siemens Energy plant before speaking to local business leaders at the Chamber of Commerce.
His message echoed the president's address. Obama told Congress that the economy was rebounding from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, more than 3 million jobs have been created in the last 22 months and U.S. manufacturers were hiring.
Geithner touted growth in several critical sectors, including manufacturing and energy. "This is one of the best times in agriculture in decades," he said.
He defended tough policies to regulate banks to prevent another banking meltdown like the one in 2008 that crippled the economy.
"They are tough where they need to be tough," he said.
He said people were hurt in the meltdown, losing homes and facing other financial problems.
"Look at the damage caused to the innocent," he said, adding, "we are making a huge amount of progress in building a stronger, safer financial system."
It was no accident that Geithner picked Charlotte. North Carolina is a key state for Obama and that's one of the reasons the Democratic National Convention is being held this summer in the city. Obama won the state by 14,000 votes in 2008, the slimmest margin of all the states he carried, becoming the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter to carry the state.
Siemens has invested more than $350 million in Charlotte in the last four years — an investment that is expected to create more than 1,000 jobs. The company's Charlotte plant, which builds steam and gas turbines, recently underwent a $130 million expansion to strengthen its export capabilities.
A Siemens worker, process operator Jackie Bray of Kings Mountain, was invited by the White House to attend the State of the Union address. She sat in the first lady's box and was held up as an example by Obama during the speech. After being laid off from a job, Bray was trained at a community college before landing the job at Siemens.
Mark Pringle, the company's director of operations and head of the Charlotte facility, said he heard good things in the president's speech.
"We completely agree with his initiative of making manufacturing a focus and finding ways to get our people trained and get into more manufacturing in the country. That definitely resonated with us," he said.
He said Siemens does a lot of overseas business, and recently landed a $1 billion contract with Saudi Arabia to provide turbines and generators.
"We're in the business of building large equipment for infrastructures of different countries. We're a little bit insulated from the direct economy. We're getting some orders from around the world to build equipment and it's keeping us busy. But we haven't seen it come back big yet, and that's what we're trying to prepare for. It's taking a little bit longer than we originally assumed it would.'
He also said he was proud that Geithner visited the plant and that it was being held up by the president as a success story.
"A key part of our success is our partnership with community colleges," he said.
In the past, people could graduate high school and get manufacturing jobs. Not anymore. Many manufacturing companies like Siemens are looking for highly skilled workers.
"People not only have to know the traditional skills like machining and welding, now they have to understand how computer controls work on a machine and be able to diagnose issues,' Pringle said.