Obama touts high tech, business investment at Intel in Oregon

President Obama visited Intel Corp.'s large manufacturing plant in Oregon Friday. He named Intel CEO Paul Otellini – who's been critical of the administration's economic policies – to the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
President Obama looks at a screen next to Intel's Transmission Electron Microscope during a tour of the semiconductor manufacturing facility at Intel Corp. in Hillsboro, Ore., on Friday. Pictured with Mr. Obama is microscope lab manager Barbara Miner.
Julie Jacobson/AP
Intel chief executive officer Paul Otellini at a news conference during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Jan 5.

President Obama’s brief visit to an Intel Corp. manufacturing plant in Oregon Friday – the morning after his Thursday dinner meeting with Silicon Valley’s top CEOs – serves two purposes. It gives him another chance to push education and the high-tech industry, and it’s an important buddy moment with a Republican business executive who’s been critical of the administration.

Both are intended to boost the country’s long-term economic recovery – and, not incidentally, advance Mr. Obama’s image as a pro-business president.

Oregon may be known for timber and salmon – its major state universities are nicknamed the “Beavers” and the “Ducks” – but in recent years high-tech has replaced logging as the major industry here.

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Intel is headquartered in Silicon Valley, but its largest manufacturing plant is in Hillsboro, Ore., just west of Portland. The company employs 15,000 people in Oregon with an annual payroll approaching $2 billion, making it the largest employer in the state.

In his State of the Union speech last month, Obama called on the country to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” He’s pledged to prepare an additional 100,000 science, technology, engineering, and math teachers by the end of the decade.

That’s where Intel comes in.

In addition to touring the semiconductor facility, Obama is promoting the company’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education programs.

“Over the past decade, Intel and the Intel Foundation have invested more than $1 billion toward improving education,” the White House points out in a briefing document. “In 2010, in conjunction with President Obama’s Educate to Innovate campaign, Intel announced a 10-year, $200 million commitment to advance education in math and science in the US. Intel is also one of four founding companies of Change the Equation, a CEO-led initiative designed to answer the president’s call to move the US to the top in science and math education over the next decade.”

Last summer, Intel announced plans to build a new 1.8 million-square-foot research facility in Hillsboro, in addition to upgrading four computer chip-manufacturing facilities – two in Arizona and two in Oregon – creating some 6,000 to 8,000 construction jobs and then 800 to 1,000 permanent research and technical positions.

All of this is just what Obama wants to see happen as the country pulls out of its economic doldrums. It’s especially welcome in Oregon, which has been particularly hard hit by the downturn and still has an unemployment rate above 10 percent.

In a private dinner Thursday evening, Obama was joined by Eric Schmidt of Google, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and Steve Jobs of Apple, as well as the chief executives of Yahoo!, Oracle, NetFlix, and Twitter, and the president of Stanford University.

The Oregon visit continues the same theme, while also reaching out to a top-level Republican CEO who has been critical of the Obama administration – particularly its program to stimulate the economy by helping fund local construction projects.

"Swimming pools in Mississippi are not going to create lasting jobs," Intel CEO Paul Otellini told CNN last fall.

Looking beyond such criticisms, Obama Friday named Mr. Otellini to his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which is headed by GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt.

In their meeting, the two men praised each other.

“I want to commend the president for his leadership and focus on improving our science, technology, engineering, and math education,” Otellini said. “He has taken actions – including key steps like making STEM a priority – in his $4 billion Race to the Top competition and his Educate to Innovate campaign.”

Obama noted that three-fourths of Intel’s employees are in the United States.

"This year you’ll hire another 4,000 American workers. You’ll create good construction jobs upgrading your facilities and building new plants in Arizona and right here in Oregon," Obama said. "And this kind of commitment has always been part of Intel’s philosophy."

In his speech to the US Chamber of Commerce last week, Obama urged business leaders to “invest in America” now rather than sit on the nearly $2 trillion they have in reserve.

“As all of you know, it’s investments made now that will pay off as the economy rebounds,” Obama told the business organization. “And as you hire, you know that more Americans working will mean more sales for your companies.”

Obama continues his economic tub-thumping next week in Cleveland, where he’ll attend the “Winning the Future Forum on Small Business.”

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