President Obama paid a visit to Cooperstown Thursday. In a speech at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the nation’s most prominent White Sox fan focused on the importance of the travel and tourism economy.
“Today I’m here in Cooperstown to talk about some new steps that will lead to more tourism not just within America, but getting more folks to come and visit the treasures, the national treasures, that we have all across this country including the Baseball Hall of Fame right here in Cooperstown,” said President Obama.
The president spoke before a crowd of about 150 invited guests inside the Hall of Fame’s Plaque Gallery. The first sitting president to visit the Hall of Fame and first to visit Cooperstown since Martin Van Buren in 1839 delivered a simple message: tourism means jobs.
“When visitors come here, they don’t just check out the Hall, they rent cars, they stay in hotels, they eat at restaurants, and that means for upstate New York the Baseball Hall of Fame is a powerful economic engine,” said Obama.
The president said in 2013, travel and tourism was responsible for $1.5 trillion in economic activity, supporting approximately 8 million jobs. He added that since the low point during the recession, the United States has added nearly 580,000 new travel and tourism jobs, and when visitors from outside the U.S. see the sights, it’s considered a form of export.
The president provided details of a memorandum he introduced Thursday that would encourage more foreign tourists to visit the United States by improving the travel experience at the nation’s airports.
“I met with several CEOs of travel and tourism companies and building on the progress that we’ve made I’ve directed my administration to work with airports, airlines, hotel groups, states, and cities to more to improve the traveler experience and reduce wait times for folks entering the United States, all without compromising our security,”
In the audience were Scott Donahue, CEO of the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, and “Rosie” Andolino, Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner.
“The two of them are responsible for two of the busiest airports in America but the average wait times through customs and passport control at DFW and O’Hare has fallen to just 15 minutes. You get off your plane, it takes you 15 minutes to get through if you’re an international traveler, and that is a big deal,” said Obama.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was scheduled to speak before the president, arrived late to the Hall of Fame after traveling from Long Island, where he accepted the Democratic party’s nomination for reelection.
After the president spoke, Cuomo met with reporters and said he hears the president’s call for improving the nation’s airports.
“I literally this morning I was actually talking about how JFK and LaGuardia airports are substandard,” said Cuomo. “They’ve been under construction I think as long as I’ve been alive, it seems that every time I’ve gone to the airport during my lifetime they’ve been under construction so we have to rebuild them, to begin with, and the operation has to be better. The president’s point is right.”
In January, Cuomo joined Vice President Joe Biden in Albany to talk about infrastructure improvements, where the two also discussed the need for improvements at the nation’s airports.
The governor added that change in the state’s travel system as advocated by the president does not need to be tied up in bureaucracy.
“’Well we always do it this way – it has to be this way.’ No, it doesn’t. Things don’t have to take a long time. That’s a government mindset. And what he’s saying is, ‘Find a way to do it faster, do it easier, don’t sacrifice security,’ but it doesn’t have to be a bureaucratic quagmire.”
President Obama also called for a raise in the minimum wage to spur growth in a period of slow economic recovery. In his closing remarks, he used the history of baseball as a metaphor for America’s overcoming challenges.
“Every generation faces tough times but in the words of the great Yogi Berra they’re just ’déjà vu all over again.’ We know we are up to these challenges and just as our parents and our grandparents faced challenges a lot tougher than the ones we face, and just as they went ahead and built an economy where hard work was rewarded, and responsibility was rewarded, and opportunity to all people, we can do the same.”
The president is scheduled to return to the region next week for commencement at West Point.