WASHINGTON President Barack Obama said he will talk next week about how he plans to create jobs in the U.S. manufacturing sector, one of several economic goals he set for his administration last year that is now receiving renewed attention from the White House.
Obama's weekly address hinted that his Wednesday trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, will focus on manufacturing.
"Working folks are looking for the kind of stable, secure jobs that went overseas in the past couple decades. So next week, I'll join companies and colleges and take action to boost the high-tech manufacturing that attracts the kind of good new jobs a growing middle class requires," Obama said in his address.
The Raleigh-Durham region is known for being home to three research universities and a host of biotech firms.
Obama has long said that jobs are his top priority. But his attention this year has been diverted by a series of thorny foreign and domestic policy problems, including the U.S. response to Syria's civil war, the botched roll-out of health care reforms, and anger at home and abroad about the scope of U.S. surveillance practices.
The latest economic data showed that jobs growth remains a concern. On Friday, the Labor Department reported that U.S. employers hired the fewest workers in nearly three years in December, but the setback was likely to be temporary amid signs that unusually cold weather may have had an impact.
Since December, Obama has turned his attention again to economic issues, pledging to address the gap between rich and poor in his remaining years in office.
He has recently highlighted several issues from his 2013 State of the Union address. For example, this week, he announced new "promise zones" for government and private aid in five impoverished neighborhoods.
In the address, he also promised to create three manufacturing hubs where businesses could work with government to create high-tech jobs, and highlighted the promise in a speech at an Asheville, North Carolina, truck plant the next day.
The administration launched competitions to create the three new hubs in May, pledging $200 million in funding from the Defense, Energy and Commerce departments, and matching funds from industry, and state and local sources.
The winners were to be announced by the end of 2013 but have not yet been named.
The hubs were to be modeled after a manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio, where a former furniture warehouse was turned into a 3D printing center where local manufacturers could pick up new skills and ideas.
Obama had asked Congress for $1 billion to spend on 15 such centers around the country, but Republicans want to rein in government spending and oppose spending taxpayer money on business.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Ken Wills)