STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR's Scott Horsley reports on the president's trip to Pittsburgh today.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Coming from the industrial Midwest, President Obama knows the value of factory jobs. From his first days in office, he's been talking about lighting a fire under the nation's factory boilers. Here he is at Georgetown University in the spring of 2009.
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BARACK OBAMA: And, by the way, one of the changes that I would like to see - and I'm going to be talking about this in the coming weeks to come - is once again seeing our best and our brightest commit themselves to making things.
HORSLEY: The president's keen interest in making things is more than just smokestack nostalgia. Economist Jared Bernstein - who until recently led the administration's Middle Class Task Force - notes, on average, pay and benefits in factory jobs are 20 percent higher than those in the service sector.
JARED BERNSTEIN: There's no question in my mind that a stronger manufacturing sector with more employment opportunities is really important for loosening the middle class squeeze and just providing people with better access to better jobs.
HORSLEY: No one expects to reverse those trends entirely. But Bernstein, who is now with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says the U.S. can support more factory jobs with a little government encouragement.
BERNSTEIN: The government can help plant important seeds to help grow the industry. If you think back to railroads or transistors or the Internet, the government's always played a role in early innovation.
HORSLEY: The administration wants to channel some $500 million into the effort, with most of that money coming from existing government programs. White House technology adviser Eric Lander insists the administration is not getting into the business of picking winners and losers.
ERIC LANDER: We are not endorsing industrial policy. What this is all about is creating the ecosystem in which private entrepreneurs, private innovators can flourish. That kind of ecosystem, though, does need some public support.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama will continue his push for advanced manufacturing next week when he visits an Alcoa plant in Davenport, Iowa. The plant supplies aluminum to both Boeing and Airbus. And spokesman Michael Belwood says the 123-year-old company has been developing new alloys to make planes lighter, more durable and more fuel-efficient.
MICHAEL BELWOOD: The company is built on the ability to make aluminum and aluminum products better than anyone else, and Davenport's a great example of how we do that.
HORSLEY: Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.
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