State of the Union 2011: Economy on the Forefront in One of Nation's Hardest Hit Towns


Rupnow, who has half as many employees as he did three years ago, says he wants to see more action and less rhetoric from Washington when it comes to fixing the economy.

"I think that Congress is just as much to blame. They have been leading in the direction nobody wants to go and nobody feels is the place to go," he said. "What I'd like to see Obama (do) is to be a leader and say what he's going to do is what's best for the country, not what he thinks people want to hear."

Until 2007, Elkhart was a prosperous county with an unemployment figure of 4.8 percent. But when the recession hit, companies -- mainly RV manufacturers and retailers -- slashed jobs, leading to an upswing in unemployment.

Obama first visited Elkhart County as commander-in-chief in February 2009, to build support for his stimulus program. He revisited the recession-battered county again in August of that year to focus more broadly on the jobs situation and to announce $2.4 billion in grants for development of batteries and electric vehicles, of which Indiana was the biggest recipient.

"We've got to set our sights higher, not lower," the president said at the time. "We've got to imagine a future in which new American cars are powered by new American innovation, a future in which cities that led the global economy before are leading it again, a brighter future for Elkhart, a brighter future for Indiana and for the United States of America."

Elkhart County received a total of $13.4 million in contracts and grants as part of the Economic Recovery Act.

As county residents closely watch the president's address tonight, they say they will look for signs of hope but also of concrete steps Obama plans to take.

"Even though I'm employed, I still remember how it was," Christophel said. "He [Obama] can talk all day long about what he is going to do but what has he actually put into action. I'd like him to pinpoint that."

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