Obama visiting the center of Florida's economic descent

The Miami HeraldFebruary 10, 2009 

When President Barack Obama arrives Tuesday to push his economic stimulus plan in Republican-heavy Lee County, he will be at the epicenter of Florida's broken economy.

Residents say they hope the president can turn things around – the county's unemployment rate is at a record 10 percent – though they're a little embarrassed he chose their town to highlight as ground zero.

"I heard Obama's coming because he thinks this is the worst slum in America," said Lawrence Chappell, a pool serviceman who rents a duplex in Lehigh Acres, about five miles east of Fort Myers.

The president is scheduled to speak to 1,500 people at noon in a town-hall setting at Fort Myers' downtown convention center and will be introduced by Gov. Charlie Crist. The popular Republican governor could help buoy support for the stimulus package, with the Senate vote scheduled Tuesday. Congressional leaders say they hope to have a compromise bill to the president by the end of the week.

Obama spent Monday talking to people in Elkhart, Ind., and will make two stops in Illinois later this week after leaving Florida.

In the past year, Lee County has come to lead the state in a host of troubling indicators: home-foreclosure rates (12.5 percent), the growth of Medicaid rolls (23 percent), food-stamp requests (up 65 percent) and the decrease in the median values of homes (38 percent.)

"We are the perfect poster child for the economic stimulus plan that's proposed to demonstrate the resiliency of the American people," said Richard Thompson, president of the Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce.

To read the complete article, visit The Miami Herald.

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