INDIANAPOLIS — Donald Trump saluted workers, owners and himself Thursday at a Carrier plant in Indiana, declaring that a deal to keep a local plant open instead of moving operations to Mexico was only the first of many business victories to come in the U.S. with him as president.
Trump's stop at the heating and air conditioning giant's plant, his first major public appearance since the election more than two weeks ago, marked the opening of a victory tour to states that helped him win. He was appearing at a big rally in Cincinnati Thursday night.
His speaking style, while calmer than on the campaign trail, was similar in some ways to the seemingly stream-of-conscious efforts of the past year. While focusing on the hundreds of jobs he said he had saved from moving to Mexico, he also found time to talk about his election performance, former Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight and the wall he has promised to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Some questions remain about the extent of the victory at Carrier, which announced this week that it will keep an Indianapolis plant open. In February, the heating and air conditioning company said that it would shut the plant and send jobs to Mexico, and video of angry workers being informed about the decision soon went viral.
"We're going to build the wall," Trump said, repeating his vow to construct an impenetrable southern border. "Trust me: We're going to build that wall." In other recent remarks, he has suggested that he might actually go for a fence along some portions of the border.
"The Rust Belt is so incredible but we're losing companies, it's unbelievable. Just one after the other," Trump said to workers at the Indianapolis plant. "Companies are not going to leave the United States anymore without consequences. It's not going to happen. It's simply not going to happen."
During the campaign, he had often pointed to the Indiana plant's moving plans and a major result of poor Obama administration policies, and he pledged to revive U.S. manufacturing. Officials said this week that Carrier had agreed to keep some 800 union jobs at the plant but Trump suggested Thursday that it could exceed 1,100.
A call to a Carrier spokesman to clarify was not immediately returned. Earlier Thursday, Seth Martin, a spokesman for Carrier, said that Indiana offered the air conditioning and furnace manufacturer $7 million in tax incentives after negotiations with Trump's team to keep some jobs in the state.
The company's decision is something of a reversal, since earlier offers from the state had failed to sway Carrier.
Trump said he personally called Greg Hayes, the CEO of United Technologies, Carrier's parent, to seal the deal, jokingly asking Hayes, "If I lost would you have picked up the phone?"
The president-elect threatened during the campaign to impose sharp tariffs on any company that shifted its factories to Mexico. And his advisers have promoted lower corporate tax rates as a means of keeping jobs in the U.S.
Trump repeated both ideas on Thursday.
He toured the factory with his running mate Mike Pence — who, as the outgoing governor of Indiana, was well-situated to aid negotiations — and shook hands with several workers whose jobs would be preserved. Trump pointed to one and yelled at reporters "He's going to have a good Christmas."
Though hundreds may keep their jobs, others apparently will not, since roughly 1,400 workers were slated to be laid off.
Trump's deal with Carrier may be a public relations success for the incoming president but also suggests that he has unveiled a new presidential economic approach: actively choosing individual corporate winners and losers — or at least winners. To critics who see other Indiana factories on the verge of closing, deals like the one at Carrier are unlikely to stem the job losses caused by automation and cheap foreign competition, and the prospect that the White House might directly intervene is also a concern to some economists.
The other victory Trump is celebrating is far more clear-cut: his own on Election Day.
Trump, who has long spoken of feeding off the energy of his raucous crowds, first floated the idea of a victory tour just days after winning the election but has instead prioritized filling some Cabinet positions.
The rally in Cincinnati, which Pence also will attend, will take place in the same downtown sports arena where Trump appeared in late October and drew about 15,000 people in what was one of his loudest — and most hostile to the media — crowds of the campaign. Trump, who convincingly won Ohio, is also expected to hold rallies in battleground states including Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina and Michigan in the coming weeks, though details have yet to be announced.
Associated Press writer Brian Slodysko contributed to this report.
Reach Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire