President Barack Obama held a town hall-style meeting about the economic stimulus package on Feb. 9, 2009, at Concord Community High School in Elkhart, Ind.(Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP 2009 file photo)



WASHINGTON — Nearing the end of his presidency, President Obama is returning next week to the first city he visited as president – Elkhart, Ind. – to highlight the economic progress made during the past seven years.

“The story of Elkhart's recovery is the story of America's recovery,” Obama said in a statement.

He touted improvements in employment, mortgage foreclosures, high school graduation rates and health insurance coverage.

“This progress is thanks to the effort and determination of Americans like you,” Obama said.  “And it’s a result of the choices we made as a nation.”

Elkhart had been hit harder by the Great Recession than almost anywhere in America, prompting Obama to promise Hoosiers in 2009 that “if we worked together ... we could not only recover, but put ourselves on a better, stronger course.”

Obama said Tuesday the nation has recovered from the crisis and is on the cusp of a resurgence.

Elkhart – home to many recreational vehicle manufacturers -- has regained nearly all the jobs it lost during the recession, according to the White House.

The city’s 4.1 percent unemployment rate, which at its worst reached 19.6 percent, is lower than its pre-recession average and is below the national 5 percent rate.

High school graduation rates have jumped from 75 percent to close to 90 percent, according to the administration.

The rate of home mortgages late or in the process of foreclosure has dropped from 9.5 percent to 3.7 percent in Elkhart.

And hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers are receiving health care through the insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act or through the law’s expansion of Medicaid, according to the White House.

“We still face some tough economic challenges, there’s no doubt about it,” Obama said.  “And all of us have to make some very important decisions about where we go from here.”

He said that’s what he will be talking about when he returns to Concord High School Wednesday.

Obama will also take part in a town hall meeting hosted by PBS.

The trip will be Obama’s eighth to Indiana.

He was last in Indiana for a town hall meeting at Ivy Tech Community College's Indianapolis headquarters in February 2015.

Many of Obama’s trips to Indiana have reflected the nation’s economic conditions and highlighted some of his administration’s proposals for rebounding from the Great Recession.

After Obama’s first trip to Elkhart three weeks into his presidency, he was back in the county that August, announcing $400 million in high-tech grants to Indiana enterprises to develop cars and trucks with powerful batteries and big electric motors.

When Obama visited a Chrysler plant in Kokomo in 2010, he celebrated early signs of an economic revival.

“Don’t bet against the American auto industry,” Obama said at Chrysler, which announced an investment of more than $800 million.

A year later, visiting Allison Transmission in Indianapolis, Obama boasted that the private sector added 268,000 new jobs that April.

The president likewise visited a Southern Indiana auto plant supplier in 2014 to tout his economic policies.

But The New York Times asked in an April story reported from Elkhart why Obama wasn’t getting more credit for the economic turnaround there.

Elkhart's unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country.

The article quoted former Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore, a Democrat, saying Obama gets very little credit “and I think that’s too bad because we got quite a bit of help.”

The current mayor, Republican Tim Neese, told the South Bend Tribune Tuesday “the hard-working citizens of Elkhart have brought the city back.”

Email Maureen Groppe at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @mgroppe.

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