Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis came to Lexington on Wednesday night as part of a three-day bus tour touting President Barack Obama's plan to train more workers.
Biden and Solis went to the UPS Freight facility on Mercer Road to meet employees. They will be at Bluegrass Community and Technical College on Thursday to hear from participants in that school's programs.
The UPS facility was chosen because many of its 1,300 employees are part-timers who also attend classes at higher-education institutions in and around Lexington.
For example, Jacob Ruiz, 23, is a marketing major at the University of Kentucky.
"My boss has been really flexible, letting me come in later" so he can attend daytime classes, Ruiz said.
The Obama administration would like to see more companies offering such opportunities.
"This is all about jobs," Biden said in a brief interview. "So many workers here are going to college. This is what we want to see because what it means is jobs for America."
Earlier this month, Obama announced an $8 billion Community College to Career Fund that would forge new partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train 2 million workers with skills.
The fund, which needs congressional approval, would provide money for community colleges and states to partner with businesses to train workers in areas such as health care, transportation and advanced manufacturing.
The fund also would allow federal agencies to partner with state and local officials to encourage businesses to invest and locate in the United States.
Republican response to the program has been lukewarm. U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education & the Workforce Committee, told The New York Times earlier this month that Obama had spoken during his State of the Union address about the need to streamline the bureaucracy in the workforce investment system, but now the president appeared to be "retreating" from that with a big new program.
In response to that criticism, Solis said the program was proposed to ensure that "we're not going to cut the lifeline" to vulnerable or dislocated workers and those who need training.
"UPS is a perfect example of all those qualities that the president spoke of in the State of the Union address: keeping America strong, keeping jobs here and also keeping a labor force trained," Solis said.
During their visit, Biden and Solis met informally with about 25 employees. U.S. Rep Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, accompanied them during the 30-minute visit.
Dylan Wilbur, 28, who has a degree in political science from UK, said he asked Chandler whether he was hiring.
Solis "laughed about it," Wilbur said, "and I told Congressman Chandler I wouldn't mind working on his campaign, and he said 'We're going to have a good one this year.'"
Before coming to Lexington, the Biden-Solis tour began Wednesday in Ohio with stops in Columbus, Centerville and Cincinnati.
Promoting community colleges comes naturally to Biden and Solis. Biden has been a community college instructor for 18 years, and Solis began her career in public service as a community college trustee.
As proposed by the Obama administration, the new program would be administered by the Department of Labor and the Department of Education.
Obama has tried to expand funding for community colleges before. In July 2009, the president sought $12 billion over 10 years to expand partnerships between community colleges and businesses, but Congress trimmed that to $2 billion for job training.
After leaving Lexington on Thursday, Biden and Solis will go to Harriman, Tenn., and Wytheville, Va., before ending their tour Friday in Thomasville, N.C.