BUFFALO, N.Y. — President Barack Obama could look up the numbers to learn the story of western New York's economy: the poverty rate, unemployment, median household income.
Or he could have seen Jeff and Scott Baker's billboard as his motorcade navigated through Buffalo on Thursday: "Dear Mr. President," the brothers' sign along Interstate 190 says, "I need a freakin job. Period."
Obama's Main Street economic tour brought the president to Industrial Support Inc. in Buffalo, a small but growing contract manufacturing company whose 70 employees make things like grocery store salad bar displays and do metal stamping, electronics assembly, welding and other services.
As he came to town to make the case that his efforts to improve the economy are working, a poll showed his audience isn't all believers. The Marist Poll released a day before the visit found that 57 percent of upstate New York voters believe the economy is getting worse, with only 11 percent believing it's improving. About a third aren't seeing movement either way.
Greg Krause of Buffalo has yet to see an upside. The welder has been unemployed for a year and a half and as he sat inside Industrial Support Inc. awaiting the president's arrival, he said companies just aren't hiring.
"The taxes keep going up so the businesses stop hiring people," he said. "There's not many welding jobs around here. I've applied for every one there's been."
Economists, meantime, say Buffalo — while hardly a boom town — has weathered the recession better than much of the rest of the country, in part because it never saw the same real estate bubble and bust. The 8.3 percent March unemployment rate was below the 9.7 percent national rate in a region that for decades has suffered from population losses and a lack of job growth.
"Recently, the good news is that during the recession, western New York has actually outperformed the nation," said Richard Deitz, a senior economist at Federal Reserve Bank of New York. "It's had a slower rate of job loss and it entered the recession in terms of job loss later than the rest of the country."
But every lost job hurts, said Jeff Baker, a Buffalo native who was forced to close his niche textile company near Albany, Adirondack Blanket Works, during the financial collapse more than a year ago.
"Losing a business is right up there in catastrophe land," said Baker, who had planned the billboard long before learning Obama was coming to town. "It's personally catastrophic and having to let go of people who were like family for over 10 years, you go through all that heartbreak."
He and his brother put up the sign and launched a website (http://www.inafj.org) with the hope of steering the conversation in Washington back toward the average American worker.
"It is a Buffalo kind of message," Baker said, "which is not too polished, pretty straightforward and it's real difficult to misinterpret."
It wasn't known whether Obama saw the billboard while in town.
Obama was also meeting briefly with several people who lost family members in a 2009 plane crash in a Buffalo suburb. The families have been pushing for changes in aviation safety regulations in the wake of the crash, which killed 50.
From Buffalo, Obama was to travel to New York City to attend a Democratic congressional fundraiser before returning to Washington late Thursday.