PRINCE GEORGE, Va. (AP) — President Barack Obama on Friday praised another month of added jobs as a sign the economy is building strength in this election year. But with millions still looking for work, Obama warned of the challenges ahead and urged Congress to rally behind his agenda to boost American manufacturing.
"Day by day, we're restoring this economy from crisis," Obama said. "But we can't stop there. We've got to make this economy ready for tomorrow."
The president spoke from a Rolls-Royce plant that makes jet-engine parts, outlining his bid to create regional manufacturing institutes nationwide. But the economic news driving the story was a fresh report showing that employers added 227,000 jobs in February, underlining an economy headed in the right direction.
Privately, Obama's team knows outside factors in the United States and abroad could still derail the economy in the months before voters head to the polls. But every strong month of hiring is seen as undercutting Republican arguments that Obama has failed to steer the economy out of the recession.
Obama was traveling from the Virginia manufacturing plant to an evening of raising campaign cash in Texas.
The president said Rolls-Royce is about to add more than 200 new jobs, the kind of manufacturing that "gives me confidence that better days are coming."
Obama has highlighted the U.S. economy's addition of 429,000 manufacturing jobs during the past two years, touring factories in Wisconsin, Washington state and North Carolina in recent weeks. The United States lost 2.2 million manufacturing jobs in the two years before that.
Political calculations are not far from the surface in these trips — Virginia is expected to be a major election battleground later this year, and the president was ending the day with fundraisers in Houston to stock up on campaign cash.
In Virginia, Obama promoted a $1 billion plan to create a network of up to 15 regional institutes to create partnerships among private industry, universities and community colleges and government. He also announced a $45 million pilot program that would show the type of potential collaboration among academia and industry.
The president has promoted a number of initiatives aimed at manufacturers and the return of jobs to the U.S., including the elimination of tax incentives that make it more attractive for companies to ship jobs overseas.
In Texas, Obama was raising campaign cash among supporters who live in a reliably Republican state. Jimmy Carter, in 1976, was the last Democratic presidential candidate to carry Texas, but changing demographics and an influx in Hispanic voters have given Democrats hopes of competing in the state beyond the 2012 elections.
Obama's fundraisers included a reception with more than 600 people at Union Station at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, with tickets starting at $500 per person.
The president was also attending a dinner with 70 people at the home of Tony Chase, the CEO of recruiting and staffing firm ChaseSource and a law professor at the University of Houston, and Dina Alsowayel, the associate director of women's studies at the University of Houston. Tickets cost $35,800 per person.