By Elise Franco
President Barack Obama was genuinely interested in learning about Summer Garden Food Manufacturing and its employees during his visit, said Tom Zidian, president and chief executive officer.
“He truly wanted to see how everything here worked,” Zidian said. “He was blown away by the fact that ... we’re growing 50 percent each year. That’s what attracted him to come here.”
The president’s entourage rolled through the Mahoning Valley on Friday, stopping first at the fast-growing manufacturing company.
Obama’s bus arrived about 9:45 a.m at Summer Garden on McClurg Road, which produces pasta sauces such as Gia Russa.
The president spent about 45 minutes touring the facility and talking with employees before moving on to Dobbins Elementary in Poland, where he spoke to an invitation-only crowd of about 300.
During the Summer Garden tour, Obama asked if the company uses local ingredients. Zidian said they get them from several states, including Ohio and California.
“I think I should take some samples back,” Obama said, noting he’s going to Camp David, Md.
Summer Garden is a 50,000 square-foot “Green LEED Certified” food manufacturing facility, and Zidian said that was made possible by Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Zidian said the stimulus funds paid for half the cost of the company’s energy measuring devices.
Ron Santangelo, a Summer Garden employee, said Obama was personable and made everyone there feel comfortable.
“He seemed like one of us,” Santangelo said. “I never thought a guy like me would meet the president.”
Across the street from the facility, a group of about 50 people gathered hoping to catch a glimpse of Obama as he entered and left his bus. Though tight security prevented anyone from seeing the president, everyone there agreed that the visit was an exciting moment.
Brenda Hawkins, an employee at American Church Inc. on McClurg Road, said Obama’s visit was “history-in-the-making.”
“We have a lot going on, and we’re trying to grow and produce jobs,” she said. “I hope his visit is a good sign that he’s recognizing that.”
Omar Coira, also an American Church Inc. employee, said, “It’s exciting that the most powerful man in the world is recognizing our area.”