President Obama, speaking at the Smith Electric Vehicle Plant in Kansas City, says while there are still a lot of hard days ahead the economy is headed in the right direction. He says companies like Smith Electric Vehicles are a big part of the progress.

President Obama said in his speech that just a few years ago, the U-S accounted for 25% of the world’s economy, but was only making 2% of the world’s advanced batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles.

“But thanks to our new focus on clean energy and the work that’s taking place in plants like this one, we could have as much as 40% of the world’s market by 2014,” Obama said.

Smith Electric Vehicles got $32 million dollars from the federal stimulus package to manufacture zero-emissions trucks. In all, $2.4 billion in stimulus money went to advanced battery and electric vehicle grants to companies across America.

“All told, we expect energy investments alone to generate 700,000 jobs over the next few years and this is not just going to boost our economy in the short term, this is going to lay a platform for the future,” Obama said.

He also took the opportunity to send a message to those who criticized the $787 billion stimulus package.

“Some people would make the political calculation that it’s better to just say ‘no’ to everything than to lend a hand to clean up the mess that we’ve been in. But my answer to those who don’t have confidence in our future, who want to stop, my answer is come right here to Kansas City see what’s going on at Smith Electric. I think they’re gonna be hard pressed to tell you that you’re not better off than you would be if we hadn’t made the investments in this plant,” Obama said.

The President says by becoming a leader in green technologies, the U.S. may come out of the economic funk in better shape than it went into it.

“That’s how we’re going to take charge of our destiny. That’s how we create jobs and create lasting growth. That’s how we ensure we don’t just limp along and maybe recover to where we were before but instead that we prosper. That this nation leads the industries of the future,” Obama said.

Smith Electric Vehicles just hired its 50th worker, and hopes to add another 100 employees by the year’s end.

“We’re seeing similar things all across America with incentives and investments that are creating wind turbines and solar panels. We’re seeing investments in energy efficient appliances and home building materials and in advanced better technologies and clean energy vehicles,”

The company also hopes to expand even further.

“I was just talking to your CEO and he says he wants to open up 20 of these (factories) all across the country. So that in each region… Smith is able to service its customers, and they’re going to have a reliable sense that Smith is always going to be there for them, making sure that customer satisfaction and performance is high,” Obama said.

The President was also in Kansas City for a fundraiser at the Folly Theater for Senate candidate Robin Carnahan.

AUDIO: President Obama’s speech at Smith Electric Vehicles [10 min MP3]

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner reports [1 min MP3]