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On The Road, Obama Pushes U.S. Manufacturing


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Take a map of the United States and stick pins in every state President Obama visits this week, and you would have a partial picture of how he hopes to win re-election. The president is visiting states he hopes to win this fall.

MONTAGNE: He's also expanding on themes from his State of the Union address. Those themes include promoting manufacturing and boosting domestic energy supplies. Today, the Obama administration is announcing plans to lease out nearly 38 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for off-shore oil and gas drilling.

NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president, and has this report.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama highlights his energy agenda today by visiting a natural gas trucking hub in Nevada, as well as an Air Force Base in Colorado that's the site of a large-scale solar installation.

Yesterday, Mr. Obama was stressing homegrown manufacturing. He toured a factory in Iowa that makes industrial augers, and a future factory in Arizona, where Intel is planning to make computer chips.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: First of all, who wants to miss out a chance to see the crane?



OBAMA: That thing is huge.

HORSLEY: Everything about the Intel plant is big, from the cranes putting it together, to the American flag hanging from its steel skeleton.

CEO Paul Otellini, who sits on the president's jobs council, says Intel is investing more than $5 billion in the factory, which is scheduled to open next year.


PAUL OTELLLINI: When completed, Fab 42 will be the most advanced, high-volume semiconductor factory in the world.


HORSLEY: It's the kind of investment Mr. Obama wants to see more of in the U.S. He's asking Congress to reward domestic manufacturers with new tax breaks. Intel already employs more than 10,000 people in Arizona. When systems analyst Cheryl Maggianetti looks at the new factory taking shape, she sees job security.

CHERYL MAGGIANETTI: As long as they keep growing and making more faster and better chips, then we have a job.

HORSLEY: But one reason U.S. factories are becoming more competitive is they're squeezing more productivity out of every employee. So, even though U.S. factories have added more than 300,000 workers in the last two years, factory employment is still far below the level of the late 1990s.

Intel software designer Tamal Biswas says plants like the one in Arizona just don't need that many people.

TAMAL BISWAS: If you see, go inside and you'll be surprised. You will not see a lot of people. It's all robots. So, there are still people, but they're not actually, like, doing the laborious work. All those are done by the robots.

HORSLEY: And the thousand or so people who will work at the plant will need special training. When I asked Intel workers to describe their jobs, more than one said you wouldn't understand.

Rafael Portela says, often, the company has to look outside the country to find the workers it needs.

RAFAEL PORTELA: That's an issue that we have to cope as Arizona residents: How we can improve our education system so that these jobs can stay here in Arizona.

HORSLEY: One of the president's biggest applause lines yesterday made just that point.


OBAMA: We want tomorrow's workers, we want Arizona's workers to have the skills they need for the jobs like the ones that will be opening up here. And I have to tell you, I've been to these plants at Intel. You know, young people, you better have done some math before you get in here.


HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says encouraging better training, greener energy and American manufacturing will require tough choices and, in some cases, higher taxes. He quoted from Intel's former CEO Andy Grove, who said he felt an obligation not just to his shareholders, but also to his country.


OBAMA: I think Andy Grove was right. This nation is great, because we built it together, because we overcame challenges together. I believe we can do it again.


HORSLEY: That spirit of togetherness was missing at the Phoenix airport yesterday, where Mr. Obama had a testy encounter with Arizona's Republican governor. Jan Brewer later complained the president is on the wrong path.

A new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, however, shows a modest improvement in Americans' assessment of the economy. And more people approve of the president's performance than disapprove for the first time in seven months.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, with the president in Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.