President Obama on Wednesday (Aug. 5) said $2.4 billion in federal grants for next-generation, fuel-efficient vehicles will create or retain thousands of jobs in Indiana and lay a foundation for the economy of the future.

In a cavernous Monaco Coach recreational vehicle assembly plant now owned by Navistar International Corp., the president told a crowd of 250 enthusiastic workers that $39 million of the grants would go to build 400 of the vehicles at their company, according to the Northwest Indiana Times.

“We have to harness the innovative and creative spirit that’s waiting to be awakened all across America,” Obama said.

Other Indiana companies winning the competitive grants are Allison Transmission, in Indianapolis; Delphi, in Kokomo; and Magna, in Muncie. In addition, Purdue University, the University of Notre Dame, Ivy Tech Community College and Indiana University will receive grants to develop electric vehicles.

Indiana will receive more of the $2.4 billion than any state but one, Michigan, Obama said.

More than 1,000 people worked at the sprawling Monaco Coach complex before all production was shut down last year. Monaco Coach was bought out of bankruptcy by Navistar International in June.

Unemployment started to soar in Elkhart County early last year as its recreational vehicle industry crumbled in the face of the national recession and high gasoline prices. It hit a high of 18.8% in March.

Navistar CEO Daniel Ustian spoke before Obama, noting his company is more than 150 years old and once had its new technology protected by a lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. The company is now a leader in the production of green diesel trucks and plans to be a leader in production of electric vehicles, Ustian said.

“We have a common goal with the president,” Ustian said. “We want to grow our company and grow jobs and grow our economy.”

The president also appeared to have the goal of answering his critics and breathing new life into some of his initiatives.

“There are those in Washington who focus on the ups and downs of politics,” Obama said. “I’m focused on the ups and downs of the American people.”

In addition to the announcement that the many of the grants for electric vehicles would flow to Wakarusa and other Indiana communities, the president launched into a defense of his stimulus program, education initiatives and most particularly, his drive to reform American health care.

“We will push health reform to the end of this year because the American people need it,” Obama said.

At the end of his talk, the president worked the edges of the seats, shaking hands and exchanging words with workers like Robert Stevens, 34.

“Anything new is good,” Stevens said afterward. “Especially if it’s a new, fuel-efficient vehicle.”