Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at the Ground-Breaking Ceremony for Expansion of the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Detroit, Michigan

October 21, 1996

Thank you. Thank you very much. When Al Checchi started telling that story about Herb Kelleher, who is a mutual friend of ours, meeting the head of Wild Turkey whiskey company, I couldn't tell whether he was comparing Ed McNamara to God, to whiskey, or to a wild turkey. [Laughter] But I have—I will pay for that at a later point. [Laughter]

Ladies and gentlemen, many people have been thanked today, but I want to say a special word of thanks to the Members of Congress who have personally lobbied me in behalf of this project and, in particular, your friend Senator Carl Levin, Congressman John Dingell, who has a way of being insistent himself—[Laughter]—Congressman John Conyers and Congressman David Bonior, who are here, and one who is not here, Congresswoman Lynn Rivers. I thank them very much for the work they did personally with me in Washington.

I want to thank Alfred Checchi for the brilliant job he has done in turning Northwest Airlines around, along with John Dasburg and others, and the work they did to make this possible. It's a real tribute to the ability of American enterprise to compete in the areas that will dominate the 21st century.

I want to thank Secretary Pena for the work that he has done to make sure that even in a time when we reduced the deficit in all 4 years for the first time in the 20th century, at a time when we were permitting Government spending to grow more slowly than it has in the last 12 years, we still were able to invest more in the infrastructure of America, in no small measure because of the innovation and the partnerships that Federico Pena did a lot to help to design and carry out. And since he was the mayor of Denver before he became Secretary of Transportation, we all know that he believes in building modern airports. [Laughter]

I'd also like to thank Mayor Archer for so many things. But the last time I checked, the unemployment rate in the city of Detroit was half what it was 4 years ago, thanks in no small measure to the work that Detroit did in securing the empowerment zone, to the $2 billion in private sector capital that were committed to it, and to the genuine spirit of partnership and cooperation which Dennis Archer has fostered. And I thank him for that.

But most important, I want to thank my friend Ed McNamara. I'll tell you a story about Ed. Not so very long ago, when the question of the last $150 million was hanging fire, he put his big old arm around me and he looked at me with those big sort of half happy, half sad eyes of his, and I thought, I'm going to get another one of this Irish bull that's coming up—[inaudible]. [Laughter] And he said, "Have I always been your friend?" [Laughter] I said, "Yes." He said, "Was I there before almost everyone else?" [Laughter] I said, "Yes." He said, "Didn't Jim Blanchard bring you to me first?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Have I ever asked you for anything, anything?" I said, "No." He said, "I want that airport—now." [Laughter] Governor Blanchard was nodding his head up and down; he knows that's true.

So this is a great day for Wayne County; it's a great day for the State of Michigan. The idea that we could invest here from all sources $1.6 billion to generate an annual impact of $2.7 billion says more than I ever could about the importance of creating a modern economy that will generate high-wage jobs, that is tied to the rest of America and the rest of the world.

Senator Levin said that together all of us working hard in the United States have produced 10 1/2 million more jobs over the last 4 years. The thing that I'm proudest of is that the typical family income has gone up $1,600 after inflation in the last few years, in part because more than half of these jobs are in highwage industries. We have to keep that trend going. For 20 years, Americans worked harder and harder and harder just to keep up, just to hold on. The average American family today is spending more hours at work and less time with their kids than they did in 1969. We have begun to turn that trend around.

So this is not only going to be exciting, it will not only change the life and the face of Wayne County and Michigan forever in creating more new jobs, it will create better jobs, and it will enable more and more people in Michigan not only to have access to that exciting world that's out there but also to build more successful family lives, to succeed at work and at home. So that this project today, yes, it will advance the pocketbooks and the incomes of the people whose jobs will come into being as a result of it, but it will also improve the quality of life for virtually every person in this entire region who is affected in any way by the way the economy is changing, so that change will be working for not only the working people but the families and the children of Michigan in the future instead of undermining those family values and what we all want. And that is, to me, perhaps the best news of this announcement today. And I thank all of you who worked on it to make it possible.

The unemployment in this State has dropped from about 7 1/2 to about 4 1/2 percent over the last 4 years. We now have to focus on the long term, on investing in our future and building that bridge to the 21st century I talk so much about. Air travel is an important part of it.

One of the things Mr. Checchi did not say because he was perhaps too modest, but I want to emphasize that one of the areas that America enjoys an unquestionable global lead in, where no other nation can come close, is in the quality and competitiveness and price of air service in the United States. Whether it is commercial service or people on tourist ventures and trips or carrying cargo, there is no one in the world to compete with the competitive airlines of the United States.

People were writing our airline industry off when I became President. We had a special commission to talk about what we could do to rebuild the airlines. I believe it is accurate to say that last year and this year, every major airline company in America will turn a profit and is helping to forge the kind of partnerships we need to build that 21st century economy, where every single person will have a chance to live up to the fullest of his or her own abilities and where people really will have a chance to build successful careers and strong families in good communities. That's what turning this dirt means today. It is a very great day. And all of you should be very grateful to the leaders here who have worked so hard to make it happen.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:40 p.m. In his remarks, he referred to Alfred A. Checchi, cochairman, and John Dasburg, president and chief executive officer, Northwest Airlines; Herb Kelleher, chairman and president, Southwest Airlines; Edward H. McNamara, Wayne County executive; Mayor Dennis W. Archer of Detroit; and James J. Blanchard, former Governor of Michigan.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Ground-Breaking Ceremony for Expansion of the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Detroit, Michigan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Simple Search of Our Archives