By: Scott Huddleston, Eva Ruth Moravec, Peggy Fikac, and Sarah Tressler
San Antonio Express News
AUSTIN — President Obama declared his determination Thursday to ignite the economy Thursday through efforts including new manufacturing innovation hubs, one of which San Antonio leaders hope to land.
“We want the next revolution of manufacturing to be made in America,” Obama said at Applied Materials, which manufactures the equipment that is used to create advanced semiconductor chips, solar panels and flat-panel displays.
The president introduced San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, who was in attendance, as a special guest and friend.
Castro cited the effort being led by the Southwest Research Institute to land the manufacturing innovation program as one key reason for his attendance, saying it would be a huge boost to the area to win the plum.
“It would be spectacular for San Antonio,” Castro said. “It would mean that we would be a leader in helping to train the next generation of high-tech manufacturing employees, encouraging new research and development in the specific sector of manufacturing and would strengthen our local economy, of course.”
After the president departed, Castro stayed as some in the audience asked him to pose for photographs or to have a word.
The crowd was buzzing at Applied Materials more than an hour before Obama was due to speak.
Attendees reported a long traffic jam trying to get to the event, since U.S. Highway 290 was shut down for the president’s motorcade to travel from his earlier event at a Manor high school to downtown Austin. The highway reopened after the president passed.
Blue draping with the image of he White House and the words “Jobs & Opportunity” in white flanks the podium where the president will speak, with a U.S. flag and a Texas flag behind him.
Applied Materials, which supplies manufacturing equipment, services and automation software to the semiconductor industry, is part of a presidential tour of Austin with a heavy emphasis on technology.
The executives at Applied Materials had “about a week” to prepare for the visit, said Kevin Winston, the head of corporate communications for the company.
“We’re proud that he chose us,” Winston said. “We’re a very good example of deep-tech U.S. manufacturing.”
The Silicon Valley-based company manufactures the equipment that is used to create advanced semiconductor chips as well as solar panels and flat-panel displays.
Applied Materials has had a facility in Austin for the last 20 years, and employs 2,500 full- and part-time employees and contractors.
“I can’t tell you how much pride there is with our employees,” said Winston. “This is the first time we’ve ever had a sitting U.S. president or any head of state anywhere, from any country in the world, visit Applied, and this is the first time, and he chose to visit our company here in Austin — that’s cool.”
Obama made an unannounced lunch visit to Stubb’s BBQ in downtown Austin, before he continued on his planned itinerary.
The impromptu barbecue stop followed the president’s remarks at Manor New Tech High School, where he addressed select students and teachers at the school’s gym.
The president is expected to stop at the Capitol Factory Thursday afternoon, before his appearance at the plant.
“The president doesn’t come to Austin very often, and we are welcoming him to our illustrious city,” said Jason Black, who owns Boundless Network.
Black and his employees gathered on their office building’s roof at Sixth Street and Brazos until Secret Service officers told them to move, saying it was “for your own safety.”
“Austin is a safe town,” Black said. “As an American citizen, you only get a certain amount of opportunities to see the illustrious president. The Secret Service did us a disservice. We were just being boundless.”
Black said as a tech startup, he was pleased that Obama added the Capitol Factory to his Austin tour.
“They’ll do a great job of sharing our vision. In Texas, we’ve been able to grow business and the economy, unlike the rest of the country,” he said.
Not everyone knew what all of the fuss was about downtown.
“What’s going on?” asked Katie Dreier, 31, as she approached a crowd at Eighth Street and Brazos around 2:30 p.m. Dump trucks, ambulances and pickups blocked streets near the Omni Hotel.
She lives nearby, she said, and got an email saying that the streets would be closed.
Thursday afternoon, she went out to get coffee and saw people gathered.
“We were curious,” she said. “We had no idea why the streets were being closed, although we knew Obama would be in town. It’s good for our city that he’s visiting.”
As the motorcade passed, several people cheered and, those who weren’t holding a camera or cell phone up clapped.
“I saw someone wave, but really it was just a lot of guys packing heat,” said Alessandra Millican, who took an hour off of work to watch the procession. “I saw a lot of people with guns.”
Although Occupy Austin had threatened via Twitter to protest the motorcade, only one masked person was present. A second protestor held a cut-out of Obama’s torso with a T-shirt that said, “No Tar Roads,” but otherwise the crowd was cheerful.
Just after noon, Air Force One arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport about 10 minutes early. A crowd of about 100 friends and family members of White House staff and military personnel let out a cheer as soon as the president was seen stepping off the plane with U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett.
The president was greeted by Gov. Rick Perry and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. He visited with the crowd for about five minutes before getting into the presidential limousine, one of about 25 vehicles in a motorcade.
Other than a few “hellos” Obama said, “it’s good to be back in Austin!”
Speaking to reporters afterward, Perry said his words with the president were brief and welcoming. He said it was Obama’s first return to Texas since a memorial service held April 25 in Waco for the 12 first responders killed in a massive explosion in West on April 17.
“As a grateful state, we appreciate the president being there that day,” Perry said.
He said his exchange with Obama was brief and welcoming, and did not go into depth on the economy. Perry said he believes the president has “some good ideas” but is too focused on using government to stimulate the economy.
“He believes government needs to be the generator of jobs flowing into this country. I don’t,” Perry said.
He defended financial incentives provided by the state, saying they are approved through a legislative process.
“The return on investment is what people need to look at,” Perry said. “And states should compete against each other.”
“Whether you’re playing for the red team or playing for the blue team, you like to hang out with a winner. And Texas is a winner,” the governor said.
Jason Zielinski, public information officer for the airport, said the South Terminal used to accommodate the president’s arrival was once run by a Mexican passenger carrier that saw a decline in travel and ceased operations there. The small terminal south of the main airport still has a baggage-pickup area and car-rental counter, and has been used at least four times by Air Force One since Obama was elected president, he said.
“It’s a more isolated, secure area,” Zielinski said. “It’s easier for us to have this type of activity.”
His first stop, in the first of many expected “middle class jobs and opportunity tours,” will be Manor New Tech High School, where students “are learning the real-world skills they need to fill jobs that are available right now,” according to a White House release.
The motorcade arrival to Manor New Tech will be blocked to the public, as well as the press, Secret Service agents said.
Obama also is expected to talk to workers at Applied Materials, a California-based company that produces computer components and is “hiring workers with cutting-edge skills and creating the tolls and products that will drive America’s long term economic growth,” the release said.
At the Applied Materials manufacturing facility Thursday afternoon, employees stood in line outside Building 30, where President Obama was scheduled to give remarks and take a tour of the facility later that day.
By 2 p.m., no protestors or supporters were lining the roads leading to the 1.9 million-square-foot manufacturing grounds. Security checked identification at points of entry to ensure only applied Materials employees and the media were allowed in.
Some in Austin’s local media, noting announced road closures and changes Thursday in daily bus service, have speculated, without confirmation, that the president will visit a high-tech incubator site in downtown Austin.
White House officials have touted the visit as the first of many in communities across the country aimed at building support for policies that promote investment to generate well-paying jobs that will anchor America’s middle class far into the future. The initiative follows the president’s difficulties in gaining congressional support in a number of areas, including an attempt to minimize negative effects from recent budget cuts through a process known as sequestration.
The Center for Security Policy, a non-profit national security organization, has already criticized the president’s Texas visit, saying defense cuts that began with the Obama administration’s sequestration proposals are going to hurt the Lone Star State.
“Texas is one of the hardest-hit states” affected by some $500 billion in defense cuts nationwide, the group said in a release.
Noting expected downsizing measures at Fort Hood, Fort Bliss, Corpus Christi Army Depot and Air Force bases statewide, the group said Texas stands to lose nearly 100,000 defense-related jobs, while incurring well over $5 billion in lost earnings.
But Austin, like San Antonio, which turned to local privatization and strategic facilities planning to survive the 2001 closure of Kelly AFB and the recent withdrawal of Air Force missions at Brooks City-Base, has thrived amid military downsizing.
When the former Bergstrom AFB was closed as an air base with plans to renovate it as an airport, Austin city officials vowed that no taxpayer funds would be used to convert it to a civilian aviation hub. The site opened to the public as a city-owned airport in 1999, with an operating budget supported by businesses and travelers who use the facility.