But he also hammered Congress, chiding lawmakers for moving slowly on what he said were important initiatives to improve the economy and educate the future workforce.
“America thrives when we build things better than the rest of the world,” he told a friendly audience of nearly 1,500 here at the Rolls-Royce Crosspointe plant, set among stands of pines in the flatlands outside Richmond. “I want to make stuff here and sell it over there.”
Obama spoke on a day when the Labor Department issued another positive employment report, showing that the economy added 227,000 jobs in February.
That marks the third consecutive month the economy has added at least 200,000 jobs, although the unemployment rate remains at 8.3 percent as a half-million people rejoined the job hunt.
Part of the job growth was in the manufacturing sector, a particular focus of Obama’s economic message.
He used his appearance here to highlight a $1 billion proposal — contained in his budget request now before Congress — to create a nationwide network of 15 institutes for manufacturing innovation.
The centers would bring together industry, colleges and universities, and government agencies, as well as invest in new technologies, to help train workers for what the president has called the manufacturing jobs of the future.
Obama also announced steps to use executive authority to authorize $45 million in existing resources to develop a pilot program for those institutes.
The money does not require congressional approval, which he joked during his remarks was hard to come by.
With populist overtones, he pitched his plan to change the corporate tax rate, end tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas and make college more affordable to ensure an educated workforce in the future — key components of a middle-class-focused message that he has delivered in recent months.
Obama also called on Congress to support his proposals that he said would help train 2 million people in the coming years for good-paying manufacturing jobs.
“At a time when so many Americans are looking for work, no job opening should go unfilled just because a person did not get the training needed,” he said. “We have got to make this economy ready for tomorrow.”
Before speaking, Obama toured the plant where parts for jet engines are made. Obama said Rolls-Royce Crosspointe is planning to add 140 new local jobs as it expands into a second facility here within two years.
Wearing safety goggles, Obama chatted with workers as he walked along the pristine factory floor. Some of the machines, used for precise measuring, had robotic arms. Obama pressed the “go” button on one of them, under close watch.