Obama says economy is ‘poised for progress’ during manufacturing push in Texas

As Washington remained mired in battles over immigration, the budget and other matters, President Barack Obama on Thursday kicked off a public tour focused on jobs and the economy with a visit to Texas to champion a new manufacturing initiative.

In a speech at Manor New Tech High School near Austin, Texas—the first stop in a series of visits billed by the White House as the president's "Middle Class Jobs & Opportunity Tours”—Obama said much work needs to be done to lower unemployment, lift income levels and strengthen the economy.

But he delivered an optimistic message, noting recent improvements in the economy, including news the country had its lowest unemployment rate in four years. He also noted growth in energy and other sectors, and recovery in the housing market.

"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. But the truth is there's a lot of reasons for us to feel optimistic about where we're headed as a country," Obama said. "We're poised for progress."

Earlier Thursday, the president made good on a pledge to invest in American manufacturing made during his State of the Union address in February by announcing a new competition to create three "manufacturing innovation institutes" in the United States.

The initiative will create institutes similar to a pilot program in Youngstown, Ohio, where the government helped establish the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII), a consortium of manufacturing firms, universities, community colleges and nonprofit organizations. Like the Youngstown initiative, these new institutes will be partnerships between businesses and universities and the government to help U.S.-based manufacturers develop technologies and to train workers on those technologies to boost the economy.

"When you have that type of strong partnership … you make the United States more of a magnet for job creation" and innovation," Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council, told reporters on a conference call Thursday.

The $200 million in federal costs for the program will be shared by five agencies: Defense, Energy, Commerce, NASA and the National Science Foundation. The Department of Defense will lead two of the new institutes, “Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation” and “Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing,” and the Department of Energy will lead the third institute, “Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing."

The president on Thursday also pressed Congress on his previous request for $1 billion to establish a network of 15 more such institutes.

He called on the American public to help him get elected leaders to support his agenda.

"Every once and a while, I'm going to need your help to lean on your elected representatives and say, 'Hey, let's do something about this ... pressure their members of Congress to do the right thing," Obama said.

But, noting Thursday's manufacturing announcement and a new executive order related to government data issued Thursday, the president said he's also preparing "to take action on my own."

Earlier Thursday, Obama also issued an executive order requiring that new government data be made freely available and in usable formats, which the White House believes will help build businesses and create jobs through innovation.

"As one vital benefit of open government, making information resources easy to find, accessible, and usable can fuel entrepreneurship, innovation, and scientific discovery that improves Americans' lives and contributes significantly to job creation," the executive order reads.

The order notes the decision made decades ago by the U.S. government to freely offer weather and Global Positioning System data. The availability of that information, helped spark major U.S. innovation.

The administration has directed several additional actions to complement the executive order, including adding new services to Data.gov, which houses government data.

The president also met with Austin area residents and technology entrepreneurs and planned to visit a technology company, Applied Materials.