The Boardwalk Hotel
Panama City Beach, Florida
5:22 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Well, thank you, guys. Good afternoon. I have sand in my shoes. (Applause.) Which means that I have to come back, right? (Applause.)
I want to thank all of you for the warm and wonderful welcome here to Panama City Beach. It is truly beautiful out here. I mean, these beaches are gorgeous.
I want to start by thanking your mayor, Gayle, who has just been a terrific supporter of this community, and she has been a wonderful host to me. Thank you, Gayle, for everything that you’re doing for the people of this city. Let’s give her a big round of applause. (Applause.)
And I want to thank a few other people that I got a chance to meet today. Commissioner Dozier, who’s here, let’s give him a round of applause. And we have the Panama City mayor, Scott Clemons, here as well. (Applause.)
So there’s one thing that I’ve learned after spending a very short time here, but I’ve learned it in that quick time, is that this is really a friendly place with a lot of warm and open people. It’s welcoming, it’s pristine, and everybody should come here. (Applause.)
But it wasn’t always this way, as I have been told. Back in 1935, in the heart of the Great Depression, most people came to Panama City to focus on growing crops. Did you all know that? I’ll give you a little history lesson. (Laughter.) Planting fruit trees and making a living in the soil instead of the sand.
And then there was this one man, a developer named Gideon Thomas, who had a different plan in mind. He saw things a little bit differently. He built the Panama City Hotel to attract tourists to the Florida coast. And many people thought he was crazy for staking the claim on the beaches rather than in the fields, but Gideon didn’t listen, thank God. He said, “I’m not attempting to grow vegetables here.” He said, “I’m going to grow people.” And that’s exactly what he did.
Things took a while to get going, but pretty soon folks from all over the country were doing what many of you do. They’re bringing their families down here. They staked a claim, and they found out that this is one of the most beautiful stretches of land not just in the country but in the world. As one newspaper wrote, “Panama City has a destiny as sure as the sun will shine tomorrow.”
But I know that today, for a lot of folks here in Florida and along the Gulf Coast, that destiny doesn’t seem as certain anymore. The oil spill in the Gulf is the worst environmental disaster in our nation’s history. And over the last few months, oil spewing from the well a mile beneath the surface of the ocean has polluted our beaches, it’s endangered our wildlife, and it’s threatened the livelihoods of fishermen and small business owners from Biloxi all the way to Pensacola.
I also know that this community is home to many military families, as Gayle mentioned, including the men and women in the Coast Guard and the National Guard who mobilized in response to this crisis.
And I just want to say to you and your families, for the military servicemen and women who are here, again, you have always made extraordinary sacrifices, and I want to thank you all, all across the Armed Forces, for everything that you do to serve and protect us. We continue to be proud of you all. (Applause.)
But their families make up this community as well. So there’s no question that this is a difficult time for anyone who lives or works on the coast. And that’s why my husband and his administration are doing everything they can to get that cap on that well, to clean up the mess, and to make sure that BP is held accountable for the damages that they’ve caused and the disruption that they’ve caused in so many lives. (Applause.)
But it’s also important to remember that there are many places along the Gulf Coast, like right here in Panama City Beach, that as you can still -- these places are still clean, they are safe, and they are open for business. (Applause.)
That’s one of the reasons why I’m here. It’s important for the rest of the country to know that these places are just as vibrant and just as beautiful as they’ve always been. And folks here in Florida and across the Gulf Coast are still depending on visitors and tourist dollars to put food on their tables and to pay their mortgages and to send their kids to college -- because everybody’s going to college, right? (Applause.) All right.
Today I got the chance to meet some of the business owners and restaurant owners here in Panama City Beach -- a wonderful group of determined and dedicated men and women who care deeply about this community. And many of them have been a part of this community for generations. The stories you hear -- I’ve met grandchildren and sons and daughters who have been building their lives here for a very long time, and they hope that their children and grandchildren can stick around for generations to come and carry on these traditions.
But it’s not just the folks who own the businesses who make up this community but it’s also folks who come here on vacation -- the families that have rented that same condo or visited the same stretch of beach for as long as they can remember. Who falls into that category? How many kids just come here and play on the beach every summer? Yeah, yeah, don’t point to him, you look like you could still play. (Laughter.)
The parents who packed up the van with the kids and the dog and headed south for a little slice of paradise, which this is -- these people, the residents and the visitors, are the lifeblood of the Gulf Coast. And that’s why it’s so important to spread the word that despite what everyone is seeing on TV and reading in the newspaper, that most of the coast is still open for business. It is truly important for people to understand that. Most of these beaches are perfectly clean.
And there’s so many wonderful places all across the coast -- Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas -- that are ready to welcome visitors like they have every summer.
And I know that there have been lots of questions lately about how we can best help people here on the Gulf Coast who’ve been affected by the oil spill. And to be honest, truly, one of the best ways that fellow Americans can help is to come on down here and spend some money. (Applause.)
And that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come this summer. I mean, my husband has been down here several times. We’ve got administrative officials. But I wanted to shed a light on the terrific people and the great places to come and relax and have fun, because that’s the time of year that we’re in. People are looking for that place to go, their kids are driving them crazy. (Laughter.) They want them out of the house. And this is a great option.
Right now my husband and so many members of his administration are working tirelessly to help make the Gulf Coast whole again. And part of that means ensuring that the leak is plugged, and they’re making progress on that front. Part of it is ensuring that residents are compensated for their losses, and that’s happening. And part of it is ensuring that the beaches are clean and the ecosystem is restored so kids can come back and bring their kids and their kids and remember the beauty that this coast has to offer.
So that will always be the first priority of this administration -- making sure that those components continue to happen.
But it’s also our responsibility to help the people of the Gulf return to the lives that they love. And it’s our job to make sure that visitors who have enjoyed this beautiful coastline for generations can keep the tradition alive.
And it’s up to us to let Americans everywhere know about the extraordinary hospitality and about all the wonderful places to bring your families and enjoy yourselves right here on the Gulf where the future will always be bright.
And just driving around, I saw golf courses, I saw that upside-down house. (Laughter.) It’s a whole building that’s upside-down. I don’t know what’s going on there, but if I’m a kid, I want to go in that house. Water parks, beautiful beaches, there’s so much to do here, and I can guarantee you that people will be ready to welcome all of America with open arms.
So on behalf of my family and the administration, know that we are working on your behalf. We care deeply about getting things right here. And I look forward to coming back down to the coast and getting some more sand in my shoes.
But for now, I’m going to come down and shake some hands. (Applause.) Thank you all so much.
5:32 P.M. EDT