SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- They don't seem to have much in common: an engine rebuilder, a candlemaker and a stainless steel fabricator.
But when President Bush visited Springfield on Monday, representatives of all three businesses said his job creation and tax cut plans are helping them to add workers and reach new customers.
"When you hire 10 people here and 15 people there, it adds up," Bush told about 500 people at SRC Automotive Inc. "It adds up, because there are a lot of entrepreneurs and a lot of small businesses."
Bush served as moderator of an informal forum with a chief executive, two business owners and two workers during his 45-minute stop in southwest Missouri. He also was joined by Sens. Kit Bond and Jim Talent and Rep. Roy Blunt, all from Missouri's GOP Congressional delegation.
Monday's visit was Bush's 15th stop in Missouri, and his fourth in the Ozarks.
Missouri is not only a prize because of its 11 electoral votes -- which Bush won in 2000 -- but because the state is a dependable bellwether of the national electorate. Missouri went with the White House winner in every election of the last century except 1956.
Bush acknowledged people's confidence has been shaken by a declining stock market, a recession, terrorist attacks, two wars and corporate accounting scandals over the past three years. But he said the release Monday of his 2004 economic report, a document prepared by his Council of Economic Advisers, indicates prosperity is within reach.
Jack Stack, president and CEO of SRC Holdings Corp., told Bush that the plant where Monday's gathering was held anticipated 18 percent growth in the coming year.
The 120 workers at the employee-owned plant make and remanufacture engines and other parts for automobiles, boats and race cars.
"It's about creating a business of businesspeople, getting people to think and act like owners and then allowing them to have the opportunities to really experience the great country that we have," Stack said.
Stack and 12 other managers bought SRC in 1983 from International Harvester. It had 119 employees when they bought it and $16 million in annual sales. The corporation now has more than two dozen subsidiaries, 900 employees and $190 million in sales.
Last year, Stack, his wife and two of his children donated a total of $10,000 to the failed presidential campaign of Missouri Democratic Rep. Dick Gephardt. Stack said he believed Gephardt is a good man with a vision that would have helped the country, but now said he is undecided.
Gary Brown, warehouse supervisor at SRC Automotive, told Bush that he received a $3,000 tax reimbursement last summer -- money that was used to get braces for his daughter's teeth.
'A tremendous thing'
Mike Stadler, owner of Custom Manufacturing and Polishing Inc., said he recently hired three employees and plans to buy $550,000 in new equipment for his steel fabrication business.
Stadler opened in 1992 with three employees and one piece of equipment. He now has 25 employees and $3 million in sales.
The business, which is taxed at the same rate as individuals, began seeing a spike in orders about six weeks ago, Stadler said. Now his employees are working 10-hour days, six days a week.
"It's a tremendous thing," Stadler said.
Tricia Derges, owner of Mostly Memories, told Bush that she started making scented cards 10 years ago in the attic of her home. Her line now includes bath and body products, as well as personalized candles.
"The Bush candle?" a grinning Bush asked.
"That's right," Derges said. "See me afterwards."
She recently purchased a 60,000-square-foot building on 10 acres in neighboring Ozark from a manufacturer that had gone out of business. She also has 60 full-time workers and plans to add a dozen more this year.
"We are thankful so much for the tax relief that you have helped with," Derges told Bush.
Meanwhile, Gov. Bob Holden was unwilling to give Bush credit for the state's economic upswing.
"President Bush's visit to Missouri is interesting from the standpoint it seems he had to come to a state with a Democratic governor to find a place that hasn't been totally decimated by his failed economic policies," said Holden, locked in a primary race with Claire McCaskill, currently Missouri's state auditor.
Noting that Missouri gained more than 27,000 jobs in 2003, Holden said: "We have done this in spite of President Bush, not because of him."
Holden said the Bush administration had no role in many of Missouri's biggest economic successes, including the retaining of a Ford assembly plant in Hazelwood and the American Airlines overhaul base in Kansas City.