Kathie Leonard, president of Auburn Manufacturing, was eating breakfast Monday morning when her phone rang. It was U.S. Sen. Angus King, asking if she’d like to join him at President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

“I was really surprised when Sen. King actually called me and invited me to be his guest,” said Leonard, who was reached in Florida, where she has been on vacation all week. She plans to fly from Florida straight to Washington, D.C., on Monday.

“I’m very excited,” she said.

When she asked King why he was inviting her, he said the president may be making some comments about U.S. manufacturing and he wanted a representative of Maine’s manufacturers to be by his side.

“I am honored to have Kathie as my guest for the State of the Union,” King said in a statement issued Friday. “Manufacturing has always been an engine of economic growth and prosperity, providing good jobs for the middle class in Maine and across the country. Kathie’s story of hard work, innovation and perseverance is a blueprint for how American producers can compete in an increasingly global marketplace. She has managed to keep jobs here in the U.S., and under her steadfast leadership, (Auburn Manufacturing) has proven that manufacturing can thrive in Maine.”

In 2013, the 34-year-old company doubled its size with a $1.4 million expansion. It makes textiles that withstand extreme temperatures for commercial and government use.

King was a co-sponsor of the bipartisan Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act of 2014, which the president signed into law in December.

Leonard has known King since he was governor from 1995 to 2003 and supported his campaign for Senate.

“I thought he was a great governor and think he is a wonderful senator,” she said. “He’s interested in others and he wants to know your ideas.”

Auburn Manufacturing employs roughly 50 people at two manufacturing plants in Mechanic Falls and Auburn. King has toured both since being senator.

“I think he admired we’re a Maine manufacturer, we’re a 100 percent U.S. manufacturer, we’re a textile manufacturer who has survived and thrived despite all the off-shoring that’s taken place in this country,” she said. “I think he admires that and respects the fact we stayed the course and made Maine our home.”

While those tours provided Leonard with opportunities to share her thoughts about business with King, she doesn’t plan to let next week’s unique opportunity go by without bending King’s ear about other issues she’s concerned about: namely the impact free trade agreements will have on exports, which are a big part of Auburn Manufacturing’s business, and her worry that the U.S. Department of Defense’s commitment to buy from American manufacturers may be wavering. Auburn Manufacturing also does a large amount of government contracting work.

“They say they want to buy American, but sometimes I see movement toward opening up toward imports in government and I worry about that, too,” she said. “I want to make sure the playing field is even.”

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