Michele Bachmann appears at a manufacturing plant in Sheffield, Iowa.… (Charlie Neibergall, Associated…)
Reporting from Waterloo, Iowa — On her visit to a traffic-signal plant Monday, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann called it an example of how President Obama's policies are "continuing to dig us deeper into the hole toward another recession."
Standing before a row of shiny orange trailers carrying portable solar-powered traffic lights, she said her plans for a smaller government with fewer rules and lower spending would help OMJC Signal Inc. "grow, grow, grow, grow, grow."
"That's my goal — to see you succeed wildly," the Minnesota congresswoman told a gathering of OMJC workers on the plant floor here in the central Iowa town where she grew up.
But OMJC thrives on the kind of road and bridge spending that Obama has promoted as a key remedy to the nation's economic slowdown. As much as 80% of OMJC's revenue comes from government, according to the company's chief executive, Arlen Yost.
"It is government projects primarily that use our products," Yost told Bachmann after showing her how a crane on one of the orange trailers rises to display temporary traffic signals at road construction sites.
Yost, a conservative Republican, took pains not to spoil Bachmann's event, playing down his company's reliance on government spending in a conversation with the candidate.
"So you don't get a government grant to do what you do?" she asked him.
No grants, he assured her. "I wish I could say we had great success in government funds, because everybody likes a handout," he said.
But in an interview later, Yost acknowledged that his company has profited from the infrastructure spending promoted by the president.
While thousands of other companies have scaled back during the economic downturn, Yost says OMJC's business has been stable, apart from a costly contract dispute with the state of Texas over a road project in the Fort Worth area.
"There's been a lot of money into infrastructure repair; I have no idea how that affects us," he said. "It doesn't do it directly. But it surely does help us."
Bachmann campaign spokesman Eric Woolson said he did not know whether any of the public works spending that Obama is pressing Congress to approve would benefit OMJC. But he cast the president's overall agenda as damaging to the economy.
"The president's healthcare package, excessive spending, government that's saddling business and individuals with the higher cost of government, that's not helpful to anybody," he said.
OMJC, owned by Yost's family, does government work throughout the country, but business has been best recently in East Coast areas where infrastructure has rotted the most, Yost said. In addition to portable traffic lights, its products include solar-powered bus-stop lights and mobile camera systems to monitor traffic.