Obama shifts visit to North Fayette campus

Leetsdale loses out for Wednesday stop

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WASHINGTON -- Sorry, Leetsdale.

It turns out the Oakdale area is better for a presidential visit.

The White House has revised plans for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden's Wednesday visit to the Pittsburgh area.

The pair will visit the Community College of Allegheny County West Hills Center in North Fayette.

The community college, 15 miles south of Leetsdale, was able to better accommodate the visit, according to a White House official.

Both day and evening classes are canceled Wednesday at the West Hills Center as the college prepares for and hosts the president and vice president, said college spokeswoman Elizabeth Johnston. She directed other questions to the White House, which had no additional information to release Monday.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden are expected to build momentum for their "Opportunity for All" program to promote skills training for careers in fields with a growing demand. That's been a top agenda item for the president and something he stressed this winter in his State of the Union address, in which he empowered Mr. Biden to lead a task force to review federal employment and training programs in order to ensure they work toward helping fulfill current and future job needs.

The president recently directed the Department of Labor to refocus its $500 million Trade Adjustment Assistance and Community College and Career Training grant program so that it rewards programs that apply the best practices identified by Mr. Biden's task force and that establish training partnerships with regional employers and national industry associations.

The West Hills Center occupies a 150,000-square-foot facility that includes classrooms and facilities for automotive, welding and other trade programs.

Political scientist G. Terry Madonna noted that Mr. Obama has visited the eastern part of the state more "frequently and might be heading to the southwest to both win support for his policy agenda and energize young Democrats ahead of midterm elections that could shift control of Congress."

The Pittsburgh area -- with its booming technology and health care industries -- makes sense for a message about job training, said Mr. Madonna, director of the polling center at Franklin & Marshall College.

"He'll be able to deliver a message that there are jobs but the problem is, companies say they're finding trouble finding people who are specifically prepared," he said. "Community colleges are the quintessential places where you would expect the kind of talk that he's trying to give. They have a plethora of professional programs that fit the needs the president is trying to address."

Natural gas drillers hope their workforce needs are included in his message.

"We're seeing game-changing opportunities because of hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling to unlock the resources we have here in Pennsylvania," said Stephanie Wissman, executive director of the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania.

"No matter if you want to pursue a degree in geology, engineering sciences, biology or anything like that, you'll always have a job in the oil and natural gas industry, and there will also be opportunities for you if you don't want to pursue that two- or four-year degree" but obtain training in skills such as pipe-fitting and truck driving, she said.

"We know it's been on [the president's] radar," Ms. Wissman said. "In his State of the Union address he talked about the benefits of natural gas development and how it can be a piece of the overall energy portfolio of the nation."

Mr. Obama last visited the area in January, when he traveled to U.S. Steel's Irvin plant in West Mifflin to sign an order establishing a new plan for retirement savings.

Bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 1-703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets. Bill Schackner contributed. First Published April 14, 2014 11:57 AM

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