Tiny Atkinson, Ill., prepping for president's visit

August 16, 2011 (ATKINSON, Ill.)

The president held an economic forum with local farmers and business owners at Northeast Iowa Community College. The president said he wanted to hear their suggestions on how to help the economy.

Wednesday, the bus tour stops in western Illinois, in the villages of Atkinson and Alpha. ABC 7 political reporter Charles Thomas is in Atkinson, where he caught up with local residents about the president's visit.

Public works manager and fire chief Bob Floming has planted over 1,000 flags. They will line the presidential motorcade route to celebrate Atkinson's most historic day ever.

"To recognize a little bitty town like this, it's an honor, it really is," Floming said.

Only 1,100 people live in Atkinson. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates over 95 percent of them are white and work in agriculture-related jobs.

Thirty-year-old August Junior installs heating and cooling systems and does plumbing while also serving as mayor.

"First thing that comes to my mind is we gotta make the town look beautiful," said Junior. "We got to get the people involved and get them out there to see the president."

President Obama will lead a town hall meeting Wednesday at Wyffels Hybrid, a company that sells seed corn. His audience will include dozens of Wyffels employees.

"I think he just wants to hear a little bit of the voice of what the people think," said Jeff Hartz of Wyffel Hybrids.

Unemployment in agriculture-based Henry County Is around 6 percent, significantly lower than the state's just-over 9 percent jobless rate.

"If the whole economy was doing like the ag economy is, the country would be booming," said cattle farmer Larry Zeien.

Restaurant owner Lisa Brant agreed.

"Everybody you talk to is either working at the hospital or working at Walmart. There's quite a few little restaurants and stuff around, so it keeps 'em all going," said Brant.

When entering town, the president's bus will pass the construction site for the new Atkinson fire station, paid for with a federal stimulus grant.

While the majority of Henry County voters cast Republican ballots in the last statewide election, President Obama still has significant support in the area.

"All I know is as far as Lisa's Place, it's pretty much Obama country over here," said Brant.

The White House also expects hundreds of supporters from 200 miles away in Chicago, the location of Obama's national campaign headquarters.

Charles Thomas will have reports on the president's bus tour to Atkinson and Alpha Wedneday beginning on ABC 7 News at 11 a.m.

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