Obama Austin Tech Tour Raises Democrat Profile in Texas

President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to approve more federal spending for technology education, training and jobs, holding up the Austin, Texas, area’s economic boom as an example for the rest of the country.

The Texas visit today was one of a series of events across the country that the administration says are meant to build pressure on Congress to adopt economic ideas laid out in Obama’s State of the Union address this year.

“We’re poised for a time of progress, if we’re willing to seize it,” Obama said in an address to executives and workers at Applied Materials Inc., which makes products for the semiconductor, display panel and solar industries worldwide.

Obama met with students, local residents, investors and entrepreneurs as he made his way across the city. He announced competitions for three manufacturing innovation centers and an executive order requiring government data to be released in a form that entrepreneurs and researchers can use to generate applications and new services.

Obama blamed political posturing in Congress for blocking his proposals, which he said would foster research that benefits technology companies and help train workers for those industries.

Sending Message

Obama told company workers that when they talk to their elected officials, “You’ve got to remind them, we don’t want government to do everything for us but it’s got a role to play” on infrastructure and research funding.

Addressing a group of “angel investors” during an earlier stop at an incubator for technology startups, Obama said government can play a “beneficial” role in helping the private sector spur job creation.

He said he was concerned about the impact of the automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts known as sequestration. The cuts are “effectively freezing basic research” spending over the next one to two years.

“We could end up losing our edge” to economic competitors in Asia, he said.

Obama said Austin is an example of the kind of cooperation between government and business that can foster innovation.

Austin Economy

The metropolitan area centered by the state capital, which has about 820,600 residents, had a March jobless rate of 5.3 percent, compared with 7.6 percent nationwide. Computer manufacturer Dell Inc. is based in nearby Round Rock, and Apple Inc. has announced plans to double the size of its 3,500-employee customer-support center in Austin over the next decade.

“I’ve come to listen and learn and highlight some of the good work that’s being done,” Obama said at Manor New Technology High School in the Austin suburb of East Manor, where he inspected solar and robotic projects developed by students. “Folks around here are doing something right.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan in 2010 cited the school as boosting opportunities for low-income and minority youth. Of the school’s 341 students last year, 46 percent were economically disadvantaged, 48 percent were Latino, 25 percent were white and 21 percent were black, according to data provided by the school district.

Government Data

Today’s executive order, designed to make government data more readily available in user-friendly formats, may spark new industries and jobs, just as weather data from government satellites led to creation of the Weather Channel and the military-based global positioning system inspired a new generation of GPS systems for use in automobiles and aircraft, according to a White House statement.

“Just these two types of open government data, weather and GPS, alone have added tens of billions of dollars in annual value to the American economy,” Todd Park, White House chief technology officer, told reporters.

The visit -- Obama’s second trip to Texas in two weeks -- also takes place as U.S. lawmakers begin consideration of an immigration bill. Hispanics make up 38 percent of the state’s population. Texas also is a target for Democrats who want to overturn the Republican Party’s dominance in statewide and federal elections there.

Obama made no reference to immigration in his remarks, though he has repeatedly linked the issue to future economic growth. Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington policy institute with ties to the administration, said Texas is a good example for the administration.

“Texas employers have been at the vanguard of calling for sensible immigration reform, so the economics of this issue resonates very acutely in Texas,” Fitz said.

Obama last month joined four former U.S. presidents in Dallas to dedicate the George W. Bush Presidential Center. He also attended a memorial service for residents and emergency workers killed in an April 17 fire and explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, near Waco.

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