Thursday, Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon said, to the best of his knowledge marked the first visit by a sitting president to the county. State Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, countered that he’s not so sure.
“I read somewhere, but I’m not sure if it’s true, that [President Roosevelt] stopped on a train in Grandview for a stump speech on his way to Fort Worth,” Burns said. “If that’s true I’m not sure if that happened when he was first running for president or after he already was president.”
Either way, President Donald Trump’s visit to Louis Vuitton’s newly opened Rochambeau Ranch location near Keene stirred interest aplenty from both those who were able to snag invitations to the event as well as several dozen local Republicans who gathered on John and Carolyn McNaughton’s nearby property hoisting pro-Trump signs and hoping for a glimpse of the helicopter flying the president in 260-acre facility. Not as close, but not that far away, several local Democrats rallied in opposition to Trump and his policies.
A dozen or so Louis Vuitton employees backdropped by U.S., French and Texas flags ringed Trump addressed the crowd before he officially cut the ribbon on the new facility.
Louis Vuitton Chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault introduced the president. Trump’s visit represented two commitments, Arnault said. Those being Louis Vuitton’s commitment to the American market and Trump’s commitment to U.S. workers.
Thursday also served as a reminder of America and France’s long-standing friendship, Arnault said.
“French General Rochambeau in 1781 helped George Washington with French troops to win the victory of Yorktown over the British troops that gave way to the independence of America,” Arnault said. “That led to the historically strong relationship between France and the U.S., which we still enjoy to this day.”
The Rochambeau Ranch location reflects a balance of friendship, heritage and technology, Arnault said.
“Our ability to produce here is rooted in the long history of American craftsmanship,” Arnault said. “We are investing in excellency.”
The Johnson County site, crafted to complement and sustain the area’s natural environment, will bring 1,000 new jobs within five years, he said. With that, Arnault introduced Trump.
Trump opened by referencing Vice President Mike Pence’s Thursday announcement that he and Turkish President Recep Erdogan had agreed to a cease-fire halting Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria.
“We went a little bit unconventional and we did something that nobody’s been able to do for many, many years,” Trump said. “I want to thank President Erdogan of Turkey and the Kurds and Kurd leadership. I want to thank certain other countries that behind the scenes were helping up out. ISIS is totally under control and we’re continuing to capture more. We made a deal that I think is in the best interest of civilization. It’s beyond Turkey and Syria and all the countries the could have been involved in a disastrous war where millions and millions of people could’ve been killed.”
Turning his attention back to Louis Vuitton, Trump called Arnault not only a great businessman but also a visionary and an artist.
“Today we continue to celebrate the extraordinary revival of American manufacturing,” Trump said. “And we proudly celebrate the opening of the new Louis Vuitton workshop right here in Johnson County, Texas. Louis Vuitton is a name I know very well. It’s cost me a lot of money over the years.”
Trump name-checked several officials in attendance including former Texas governor and current Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
“The Department of Energy has far, far progressed from those days three years ago when you took over,” Trump said.
Trump also called out U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, whose district includes Johnson County.
“This is your territory Roger,” Trump said. “Now I go to your territory and I see why they like you and I know why they like you.”
Texas, Trump joked at one point, likes him.
Trump spoke proudly of his daughter, Ivanka Trump who serves as his senior advisor. His daughter, Trump bragged, has helped to create millions of new jobs.
Trump likewise cited a laundry list of economic accomplishments of his administration.
“Today we have more people working in the United States than have ever worked in our country before, almost 160 million people,” Trump said. “Since the election, we’ve created more than 6.4 million jobs. We’ve gained 775,000 new jobs here in Texas including more than 70,000 manufacturing jobs.
“After losing 60,000 factories under the previous two administrations, we are now gaining 10,000 under my administration in a very short period of time. And they’re coming in droves. Last year we saw the biggest increase in manufacturing jobs in more than two decades.”
Median household income has risen, Trump said. Unemployment is the lowest it’s been in half a century.
“African American, Hispanic American and Asian American unemployment rates have reached the lowest levels ever recorded in our country,” Trump said. “And the Texas unemployment rate is the lowest in history.”
Trump echoed Arnault’s thoughts on America and France’s relationship calling France our oldest ally and one of our most trusted and cherished. Trump joked that occasional disagreements with him aside, he considers French President Emmanuel Macron a stand up guy.
“France is a great country and a wonderful group of people,” Trump said. “They’re a lot of fun, and I like your president very much actually.
“Today, with the help of a great French partner, we are achieving a true victory for the people of Texas and the United States. Johnson County is home to some of the hardest working patriots in America.”
Trump commended Louis Vuitton for investing in Texas while at the same time marveling at their Johnson County facility.
“And wow! Have you delivered,” Trump said. “I want to thank you for your confidence in the United States and your investment in the Lone Star state. Every purse, handbag and piece of luggage produced here in Johnson County will be made by hand and it will bear the symbol of excellence and it will also have ‘Made in the USA’ stamped on it.”
Louis Vuitton, founded in 1854, considered several states and other Texas cities for their new site before choosing Johnson County, Johnson County Economic Development Director Diana Miller said in 2017 shortly after the company made their decision. The company —which operates in about 50 countries and manufactures high-end leather goods and other products — invested more than $20 million in its Johnson County facility.
County officials contend that Louis Vuitton’s presence will bring international recognition to Johnson County and spur increased business development.
Several nearby landowners at the time opposed the project citing concerns of possible environmental, nuisance and safety issues in addition to disruption of the rural area. Such fears, Johnson County Commissioner Jerry Stringer said on Thursday, proved groundless.
“An absolutely amazing plant,” Stringer said of his first look at the facility. “I don’t think anybody locally had any idea how cool this was going to be and how friendly it was going to be with the local environment. How there aren’t any of the big problems that some people told us there were going to be. It’s fantastic and one of the best things that’s ever happened to Johnson County.”
Cleburne banker Tim Whitlock said he noticed that a woman who previously worked in a local restaurant now works at the site. Probably, Whitlock said, at double or triple her previous salary.
“It’s state of the art here,” Whitlock said. “A very environmentally conscious company. You go by the property on the road and you wouldn’t even know it’s here. The amount of homegrown jobs they’re creating is impressive and, we need that here.”
Williams characterized the site’s operations as “unbelievable” and commended Trump’s economic policies.
“It’s an honor to have President Trump with us in the 25th District of Texas,” Williams said. “Our economy is booming thanks to the administration’s work on tax reform, and the addition of Louis Vuitton’s facility in Johnson County will only build on that success.
“We have a rich manufacturing heritage here in Texas and I look forward to the opportunities this facility will bring to our state.”