AUSTIN (KXAN) - President Barack Obama came to Austin on Thursday to praise the city's booming economy and to assure friendly audiences that the United States was finally heading in the right direction.
"Thanks to grit and determination of the American people we cleared away the rubble of the worst economic crisis in our lifetime," the president said at Manor New Tech High School,the first stop on what the White House his calling his "Middle Class Jobs & Opportunity Tours."
New Tech, a diverse campus east of Austin, was selected because students there learn the real-world skills they need to fill the jobs that are readily available.
"Hello, Texas! "Howdy, Manor!" the president boomed as the crowd in the school gym cheered his correct pronunciation of "MAY-nor," a small community nestled against East Austin.
From there, he headed to lunch at Stubb's Bar-B-Q, a popular downtown restaurant and live music venue.
Later in the afternoon, Obama toured Applied Materials Inc., one of the high-tech companies that has made Austin a hub for innovation and job creation.
The president kept his remarks at all of his publi events lively and upbeat, urging listeners to pressure congressional Republicans to help him accomplish his second-term goals.
"You might not know this, because if you listen to all the doom and gloom in Washington and politics, and watching cable TV sometimes you might get kind of thinking nothing is going right," Obama told the students and staff. "The truth is, there's a lot of reasons for us to feel optimistic about where we're headed as a country.
"Folks here understand that when we work together we all do better," he added. "Folks around here are doing something right and people around the country can learn from what you are doing."
He noted that the Austin area has produced some 85,000 new jobs in the past three years. But that's something that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has credited to his own administration's low-tax, low-regulation policies that businesses find friendly.
The Republican governor, who greeted the Democratic president at Austin Bergstrom International Airport, has often chided Obama for his push to raise taxes on high earners as a way to bring down the federal deficit.
At Manor New Tech, Obama seemed to reject Perry's criticism, saying "I believe the best ideas do not come from government."
Mayor Lee Leffingwell was also among those on the tarmac to greet the president. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and several administration officials followed Obama out of Air Force One. State Sen. Kirk Watson and state Rep. Mark Strama, both Austin Democrats, were at the event at New Tech, as was San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.
From the airport, the presidential; motorcade took a 15-minute motorcade through the green Central Texas countryside. As Obama headed into the school buildings, he saw a sign bearing the words "Welcome, Bienvendo President Obama."
As he turned into the school, a group of people was gathered, and a sign bearing the slogan "Clean Energy Jobs" was visible, according to the White House press pool accounts.
At the school, the president was heard to say to someone outside : "We want the whole country to see what is going on here."
Inside, he spoke to two students who had built a robot with a mechanical arm. The president urged them to give him a demonstration,saying, "TV likes to see it move."
When the table-top robot jumped into life, it moved towards the president and he jokingly threw up his fists in a defensive crouch, as if he was going to take it on in a fight.
He asked the students about next steps for their projects and what they wanted to do in future, then he told them he was proud of them and moved onto the next display.
Obama examined a robot on the floor, which was a backup version of one that two pupils took to the Alamo Regional First Robotics competition. The original one was designed to throw Frisbees. The president asked the students to start the device, saying "Don't crash it into your principal."
But it did not start, so the president declared a "technical difficulty. There is a glitch," he said, before talking to the students.
The Manor New Tech curriculum is based on science, technology, engineering and math. The school was established six years ago and focuses on what is called project-based learning - a method that aims to prepare kids for the real world. That means it has a lot of tech resources - laptops, iPads, iPods.
Nearly all of the students go on to college. Most are from low-income families and many are minorities. Admission is based on a blind lottery. There are at least 100 schools across the nation already following their lead, and more could be on the way.
Shantelle Williams, a senior, said she feels fortunate to be attending the school.
"It opened doors for a great opportunity," she said after the president spoke. "I try my hardest to get that recognized but it's really hard. So with the president coming, it did it for me. It was a relief.
I really enjoyed it."
At Stubb's, the president had lunch with middle-class workers. From there, he visited Capital Factory, a tech start up incubator.
There, Obama saw a demonstration of a computer program called Stormpulse which uses government data to track severe weather. It was demonstrated by Stormpulse co-founder and CEO Matt Wensing, who noted he had given up his job and health insurance with the blessing of his wife to found the firm.
Wensing said, "It's been an unbelievable day. I never expected something I started to create in my living room would be something I could show to the president one day. Very exciting."
One of Capital Factory's directors, Gordon Daughtery, commented, "Our vision is to be the center of gravity for high tech activity and to have the president here was fabulous."
Applied Materials, a high-tech company whose products help make goods like smartphones, flat-screen TVs and solar panels more affordable, according to its website.
The president was led on the tour by Applied Materials CEO Mike Splinter, Vice President of Global Operations Manufacturing Rick Gesing and Senior Vice President of Global Human Resources Mary Humiston.
One factory worker decked in a white lab coat and helmet and blue shoe covers told a reporter: "We make the machines that make the chips that change the world."
Obama walked over and added, "That's some pretty fancy stuff here."
he made a final stop at a table with a semiconductor disk, a disassembled iPad, and the touch screen from an iPhone. The employees explained how their technology is used in those devices.
"I am a huge belief that the private sector is the driver of job creation and growth," he said at his final stop before heading back to Air Force One at 6 p.m. "I also think the government can play a beneficial role in that process or compete in that process."
KXAN reporters Josh Hinkle, Sally Hernandez, Omar Lewis and Angie Beavin contributed to this report, which also contains material from the White House press pool.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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