On Austin Visit, Obama Sings City's, School's Praises

President Obama after landing in Austin on May 9, 2013.
President Obama after landing in Austin on May 9, 2013.

President Obama said Thursday that Austin was the perfect spot to kick off his “Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity” tour because the city was doing so many things right economically.

“We’re seeing people work together, not because of politics or because of some selfish reason but because folks understand when everyone’s working together, everyone does better, everyone succeeds,” Obama said during a visit to Manor New Technology High School.

During his national tour, Obama plans to study what the business community, particularly the tech industry, is doing to create high-skilled jobs and what areas need improvement.

In addition to dropping by Manor New Tech, Obama visited the world’s largest maker of chip manufacturing equipment, Austin's Applied Materials, as well as Capital Factory, a downtown company focused on helping startups get off the ground.

"We also had good barbecue, which is necessary for economic growth," Obama told employees at Applied Materials, referencing a stop at Stubb's BBQ he made for brisket and ribs.

When he arrived earlier Thursday at Austin Bergstrom International Airport, the president, who was joined on Air Force One by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, was greeted by Gov. Rick Perry and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, among other dignitaries.

Perry said his conversation with Obama was brief, characterizing it as a “quick, appropriate ‘Welcome to Texas’ conversation.”

“Austin being a high-tech center and a manufacturing site, they’re doing things right in Austin,” Perry told reporters.

While Perry was praising Obama on the tarmac, he and the state's other Republican leaders were concurrently dinging him for the country’s overall economic performance.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst all ridiculed Obama online for coming to Texas while also suggesting he could learn something from the state. Perry purchased a half-page ad in Thursday’s Austin-American Statesman that included a "handy checklist" of economic policies for Obama to implement in Washington including "low taxes" and "lawsuit abuse reform."

Nearly everywhere Obama went, he was joined by Texas Democrats. San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro joined him at Applied Materials, along with several Democratic state senators, including Kirk Watson of Austin, Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, Rodney Ellis of Houston, Royce West of Dallas and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio. State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, attended Obama's speech at Manor New Tech.

From the airport, Obama traveled to Manor New Tech, where he urged schools around the country to “follow Manor’s example,” labeling the tiny, experimental, 6-year-old high school an unqualified success.

“You’re doing things a little differently than a lot of high schools, and it’s working,” Obama told a full gym, which included the school’s student body and teachers.

Obama praised Manor New Tech’s focus on projects-based learning and the high standards expected of all of the school’s students, the majority of whom are low income.

“Every day this school is proving every child has the potential to learn the real world skills they need to succeed in college and beyond,” Obama said.

The president touched briefly on his agenda in Washington and his desire for voters to "lean on" their members of Congress to work with the president on proposals they like — "even if it's not a good idea politically."

Obama's next stop was downtown Austin, where he visited Capital Factory to see demonstrations from start-ups nurtured by the firm including Stormpulse, which uses government data to track severe weather.

Obama cited the company during his second speech of the day at Applied Materials, where he said the firm's use of government data points to why he issued an executive order hours earlier requiring federal agencies to make their publicly accessible data easier to access and use.

“It’s going to help entrepreneurs come up with products and services we haven’t even imagined yet,” Obama told a room full of Applied Materials employees after touring its manufacturing facility.

Obama also laid out the details of an initiative he mentioned in the State of the Union: a competition to create three “manufacturing innovation institutes.” The institutes will launch with a $200 million commitment from the federal government spanning five cabinet departments or agencies: Defense, Energy, Commerce, NASA and the National Science Foundation. It’s an effort to expand on a pilot institute headquartered in Youngstown, Ohio.

The White House said Obama's tour is an opportunity for him to stress the importance of making the U.S. a magnet for jobs as well as a chance for the federal government to learn from cities with job growth.

On that point, Perry was in rare agreement with his sometime political foe.

“He didn’t go to Detroit. He didn’t go to Chicago. He didn’t go to some of the cities in California that have been declared bankrupt,” Perry said. “He came to Austin, Texas, and he came here because we are a success story.”

“Whether you’re playing for the red team or you’re playing for the blue team, you like to hang out with a winner,” he said. “And Texas is a winner.”

Jay Root contributed to this report.

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