AUSTIN, Texas (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 in a small community 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 a popular downtown barbecue joint and live music venue.
Later in the afternoon, Obama was to tour Applied Materials Inc., one of Austin's high-tech companies that has made Austin a hub for innovation and job creation. While at Applied Materials Inc., the president will also deliver remarks.
The president kept his remarks 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."
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.
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.
Even while the president was cheered inside the school, outside on nearby Interstate 35, motorists heading south toward downtown Austin was at a standstill for at least 90 minutes as the Secret Service ordered all lanes blocked.
Some drivers and passengers left their vehicles and wandered toward the freeway's shoulder. Others steered their way over the grass and onto the service road in an effort to make their
way past the logjam.
KXAN reporters Josh Hinkle, Sally Hernandez and Omar Lewis contributed to this report, which also contains material from the White House press pool.
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