DURHAM, N.C. — President Obama called for more Americans to become engineers in a speech here Monday, continuing a year-long push to present his vision for the economy as U.S. unemployment remains above nine percent.
“Today, only 14 percent of all undergraduate students enroll in what we call the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math,” Obama said at the headquarters of Cree, a Durham-based company that uses LED technology to produce fuel-efficient lighting. “We can do better than that. We must do better than that. If we’re going to make sure the good jobs of tomorrow stay in America, stay here in North Carolina, we need to make sure all our companies have a steady stream of skilled workers to draw from.”
Obama also urged U.S. companies to invest in making their buildings more energy efficient, which he said would save them money that they could then use to hire workers.
The president did not propose any new spending, but his proposals for the federal budget would increase funding for education, scientific research and other programs that Obama says will help Americans get jobs.
It’s not clear if congressional Republicans will agree to those spending hikes.
Obama gave his remarks after meeting with business leaders on his Jobs and Competitiveness Council, which he created earlier this year to advise him on how to spur job growth. In presenting the president with ways to jumpstart hiring, the group focused on ideas that would not require Congressional approval.
For instance, the council said the country’s tourism industry would benefit immediately from speeding up the visa process for international travelers. Members also discussed how to improve vocational training and encourage more financing of small businesses.
The administration is already pursuing many of the council’s recommendations, though it is unclear how many jobs they would create in the short term.
In his speech, the president acknowledged Americans’ worry that the economy is not recovering quickly enough.
“The single most serious economic problem we face is getting people back to work,” he said, but, “we’re going to get there.” He said he was optimistic about the future.
North Carolina is a crucial state for Obama politically. He was the first Democrat since 1976 to win the state, and campaign officials view victories here and in Virginia as critical to Obama’s ensuring a second term. Both states have sizable populations of blacks and urbanites, two groups that have been highly supportive of Obama.
The stop in North Carolina was the first in a two-day swing throughout the Southeast that will take the president to Miami and Puerto Rico.