Remarks by the President in Q&A with TechShop Workers
1:41 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. Everybody, have a seat. Have a seat. It is great to be in TechShop. And I am thankful to all of you for taking the time to hang out with me a little bit.
We are here mostly to highlight the incredible work that is not only being done by a lot of people in this room, but the incredible opportunities we have to continue to advance manufacturing all across America. But before we do that, with the press here, I just want to make a quick comment on some news of the day that some of you may have heard.
We are all aware of the tragedy that happened in Benghazi, where four Americans, including our Ambassador there, Chris Stevens, was killed in an attack on a consulate office there. I said at the time that my absolute commitment was to make sure that we brought to justice those who had been responsible.
And yesterday, our special forces, showing incredible courage and precision, were able to capture an individual -- Abu Khatallah -- who is alleged to have been one of the masterminds of the attack. (Applause.) And he is now being transported back to the United States. I say that, first of all, because we continue to think about and pray for the families of those who were killed during that terrible attack. But, more importantly, it’s important for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice. And that’s a message I sent the day after it happened. And regardless of how long it takes -- we will find you.
And I want to make sure that everybody around the world hears that message very clearly, because my first and most solemn duty as President and Commander-in-Chief is to keep the American people safe. And there are a lot of dangers out there and a lot of challenges, and our diplomats serve with incredible courage and valor in some very difficult situations. They need to know that this country has their back and will always go after anybody who goes after us.
Now, with that in mind, let me get to the point of this gathering here today. I want to thank Mark and Jim for the great work that they’ve done in helping to set up TechShop. And the reason we wanted to come out here was we’ve made enormous progress over the last several years in revitalizing American manufacturing. There was a time when people felt as if no matter what we did, that companies were going to be moving overseas and jobs were going to be moving overseas, and American manufacturing’s days were behind us.
And yet, what we’ve seen over the last several years is American manufacturing come roaring back. We’ve got at this point 620,000 manufacturing jobs that have been created over the last several years, the most since the 1990s. We actually have companies now saying that America is the number-one place to do business again, something that we haven’t seen in over 12 years. And companies, instead of outsourcing, are now thinking about insourcing once again. We have seen entrepreneurship in manufacturing expand at the fastest pace that we’ve seen in 20 years.
And so people are starting to realize, number one, America is a great place to do business; number two, manufacturing is critical to the health of our economy overall. When we make stuff in America, then R&D is done here, the jobs in manufacturing typically pay better than jobs in other parts of the economy. There are ripple effects -- if you make a product here, that means you’re hiring not just engineers, not just guys on the assembly line or gals on the assembly line, you’re also getting suppliers and advertisers, and there’s just a whole set of positive spinoffs that come out of manufacturing.
And part of what’s exciting is that, traditionally, manufacturing was viewed -- and we’re in a steel town here in Pittsburgh -- that manufacturing meant big factories, all kinds of smoke and fire, and a lot of heavy capital. But because of advances in technology, part of the opportunity is now to make the tools that are needed for production and prototypes are now democratized. They’re in the hands of anybody who’s got a good idea.
And what we’ve been trying to do is to encourage more and more entrepreneurs, inventors to not just take root here but also have access to the kinds of equipment and technology -- whether it’s 3D printers or laser cutters -- that allow them to design their own ideas, create prototypes, put them out to market, test them, tinker with them, refine them, and ultimately create brand new businesses.
And nobody has done a better job or is a better example of this new trend than what’s being done here at TechShop. For the price of a gym membership, people can become members of TechShop, they’re able to have access to a bunch of cutting-edge technology, and folks are able to create products, ideas that in some cases they’re just doing as a hobby or for pleasure, but in some cases actually lead to businesses that end up thriving.
Probably the best example is the Square, the little gizmo that people are putting into smartphones and are using for payment purposes and be able to swipe a credit card. It’s now a $5 billion business. The prototype was designed at a TechShop.
I have another example that’s near and dear to my heart because I actually own one -- it’s a DODOcase. Somebody have my DODOcase around here? Let’s bring out my DODOcase. (Laughter.) This is -- first of all, this is a great product. I love DODO. See, this my iPad case. That’s a picture of Malia and Sasha, and me giving them a hug. (Laughter.) I love this case, and the first prototype was made at a TechShop. And now you’ve got a whole bunch of people who’ve got a business and who are employed there, and they’re manufacturing and selling all across the country.
So we have the opportunity to grow ideas here in the United States, create businesses, create opportunities. And all of this is happening in part because state, local and federal governments are also taking an interest in how can we promote manufacturing more effectively. And we’ve got some people here who have done a great job doing that. You’ve got your own mayor, Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh, who’s here. (Applause.) We’ve got county executive, Rich Fitzgerald, who’s here as well. (Applause.) And we’ve got one of your outstanding senators, Bob Casey, who’s here as well. (Applause.)
All these guys are great champions for what we’re trying to do. And a lot of my agenda for economic development in the next couple of years revolves around how do we spur more manufacturing, more homegrown ideas, more research and development. Already, we’ve been able to get 80 cities to commit to working in a public-private partnership to generate more manufacturing efforts in their respective cities. We’ve create four high-tech advanced manufacturing hubs, and we have budgeted to create a whole lot more around the country. And some of it has to do with advanced materials, some of it has to do with 3D printing. The idea is, we start building an ecosystem, a network of companies, universities, researchers, entrepreneurs, all of whom start really focusing and becoming experts on a particular facet of industries of the future.
That’s how we’re going to build more and more niches that allow us to dominate the market and sell more products made in America, not just here in the United States but overseas.
So we’ve got a lot of possibilities, but we’re going to have to continue to make some important investments. And I’m here to tell you that as long as I’m President, at least, one of my top priorities is going to be to continue to build up manufacturing, because I want to make sure that if you work hard in this country, if you’ve got a good idea, if you’re willing to put in some sweat equity, that you can make it here in America and live out your American Dream.
Because when we have an economy that works not just from the top down but from the bottom up, and everybody has got a stake and everybody is doing well, everybody is pulling in the same direction, that’s when our economy grows best. Our economy does not grow as well when it just works for a few at the very top and ordinary workers or small businesspeople get squeezed. And I think this is an enormous opportunity for us to take advantage of.
So that’s what I wanted to say at the top. Now what I want to do is just hear from you -- questions, comments, ideas. We’ve got about 45 minutes. I’ll try to keep my answers short if your questions are short. (Laughter.)
And I’m going to start off with Mark (ph).
Q Thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity to host you here. First, as a former Green Beret, thank you for going and getting that guy and letting our folks do their job.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
Q It’s a big deal. You’re hosting the White House Maker Faire tomorrow, and so I want to bridge the advanced manufacturing to makers. I’m just curious, kind of now that you’ve been through this phase and you’ve heard some of the stories, how do you see the maker movement playing into your objective of helping manufacturing in the U.S.?
THE PRESIDENT: It’s a great question. Tomorrow, I’m going to be hosting the first White House Maker Faire. And for those of you who are less familiar, there is an entire movement across the country of people who are recognizing that with new technology, that the tinkerers, the people who are working in their garage who are coming up with an idea, that the barriers to entry, the capital they have to put in to work up those ideas are now drastically reduced.
So what we decided was, let’s invite a whole bunch of folks who come up with wonderful stuff -- some products that they’re selling; some that they’ve made for themselves -- students, entrepreneurs, established business leaders -- let’s bring them to the White House so that they can share ideas and network a little bit, and so that we can highlight some of the tremendous work that’s already being done out there.
And part of my goal has been to use the power of the presidency to highlight some great stuff that’s already going on out throughout the country. We’ve now had several science fairs, because I’m trying to encourage young people to look at science, math, technology, engineering as a critical profession if we’re going to maintain our innovative edge in this global economy. The Maker Faire is the next iteration of that.
In order for us to stay ahead when it comes to innovation -- and we remain the most innovative economy in the world by far -- we’ve got to have basic research; we’ve got to have skills like math and science and engineering that are developed; but we also have to provide platforms for people once they have these ideas to go out there and actually make stuff. And so the Maker Faire is an extension of this broader effort that we’ve been trying to make, including significant investments.
We’ve seen an increase in federal funding of basic research around manufacturing -- for example, we’ve boosted by about 30 percent, because we want more people to remember what it is that made us an economic superpower in the first place. It wasn’t just the financial sector and a lot of the parts of the economy that have become dominant today, it was folks like Thomas Edison. It was the guys at HP in their garage coming up with new ideas, willing to take risks, willing to experiment.
In the past, that kind of innovation and entrepreneurship has been a driver of our economy, but there are a lot of people with good ideas who have had difficulty getting started because getting the equipment they needed in order to get started was often cost-prohibitive. Technology allows us to lower those coasts. Now we’ve got to make sure that we are taking advantage of these new opportunities.
Who else? Don’t be shy. This looks like a pretty knowledgeable group here. Yes, what’s your name? Introduce yourself before you ask a question.
Q Thank you. Thanassis Rikakis, Vice Provost for Design, Arts and Technology at Carnegie Mellon. Welcome to Pittsburgh, glad to have you here to announce these important things. I have an educational question for you. All the maker paradigms that you’re mentioning, because they accommodate many different learning styles, they also have the ability to enhance and diversify the STEM pipeline. How do you think we can go about increasing the access to learning through making in the K-12 pipeline, and especially in underserved areas?
THE PRESIDENT: It is a great question. And this is not a plant. (Laughter.) But part of what I’m working with Arne Duncan, our Secretary of Education, on is how do we start reforming and reimagining how the K-12 process works, but particularly high school.
There are basic skills that our kids need. They need to write, they need to read, they need basic numeracy. But too often, what happens in high school is kids are just sitting in a classroom and they’re being lectured to. Now, there are great teachers out there, and in some cases, a subject like organic chemistry, you just need to focus, you need to hit the books, and there aren’t a lot of shortcuts. But young people have different learning styles. And not everybody is going to necessarily go to a four-year college or university. Not everybody is going to be interested in French literature. There are some folks who, they just want to -- they’re going to learn by doing.
And so what we have been trying to encourage is are there ways for us to introduce apprenticeships, models for high school in which kids are working at the same time as they’re going to school. So if you want to be a graphic designer, you’ve still got to take the basic classes, but are there ways of designing those classes around you also working with a graphic designer who is already on the job and you can get a concrete sense of what’s possible.
I do usually three commencements a year. One is a high school commencement. I just did a commencement at Worcester Tech right outside of Boston, and the principal there is amazing -- young woman; she was voted the National Principal of the Year. But they have boosted their math scores by 100 percent, their reading scores by 200 percent. And they have in-house, in the university, by partnering with businesses, they’ve got a veterinary clinic; they’ve got a car detailing shop; they’ve got a computer design program. So kids actually participate and are running businesses even as they are learning.
And that kind of hands-on approach oftentimes is going to be a lot more effective and a lot more relevant to these young people. A whole bunch of them are going to go on to community colleges. Some of them are going to go four-year universities. Some of them may work for a while, for five years, and then once they have a better sense of the skills they need in the occupation that they’re interested in, they’ll go back to school. But giving kids a bunch of different pathways to suit their learning styles and their interests I think is going to end up producing better outcomes.
One last point I’ll say just in terms of STEM education -- we’re also trying to really focus on not only how do we get best practices spread among teachers to teach math and science so that it’s not just classroom learning and kids are less intimidated. We’re really focusing on girls and minority students who are often underrepresented in STEM education. And that’s been a major focus of our education reform efforts.
Q On a similar note, my name is Ashley Cecil.
THE PRESIDENT: Good to see you, Ashley.
Q And I am a painter, and I print my fabric -- or my paintings on fabric, and I use TechShop here to sew that into textile products. And I’m also a new mom; I have an 8-month-old at home. And I’m curious, in your experience, are you finding that entrepreneurs, people that are members of the TechShop across the country, are you finding that this is becoming more conducive for women and for mothers? Because it’s very hard for me to juggle childcare, and I find that oftentimes men frequently don’t struggle as much as I do with kind of balancing both of that. I’m hoping that it’s changing in our favor. And I know that you mentioned that you hope that you’re finding more girls are becoming interested in this as a career path, but it’s certainly -- I’m one of out of every ten that’s here in the TechShop. But I hope that maybe you’re finding that’s changing?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I will tell you that the challenges of women in the workplace exist whether you’re an entrepreneur or you are taking a more conventional route -- which is part of the reason why next week we’ll be having an all-day summit on working families. And part of our focus here is how do we make sure that families in general, but women in particular, are able to achieve and succeed in the marketplace without being penalized for also doing their most important job, which is making sure that our kids turn out well.
And that means equal pay for equal work. That means increasing the minimum wage, because women are disproportionately represented in low-income occupations. It means making sure that we’ve got a credible childcare network. We probably have as bad a childcare safety net as any developed country, and we need to be doing a lot better on that front.
And so the interesting thing is what we’re finding is a lot of companies are realizing that family-friendly policies end up being good business, not just the right thing to do. People are more productive. Michelle talks about how when she worked at the University of Chicago Hospital, her first interview she actually brought Sasha into the meeting with the CEO. She just wanted to kind of see, all right, how is he going to respond. Sasha was still in the bassinet, the car seat thing. Because her point to her employer was: This is who I am. I think I can do a really good job, but it means that if I have to take her to a pediatrician, I don’t want to have to argue about whether or not I can do that. And if you are supportive of my efforts with my family, then you’re going to get 110 percent out of me, but you’ve got to have some flexibility in terms of time and so forth.
A lot of employers I think are starting to realize that. It’s harder for smaller businesses, because if you’ve only got four or five employees, sometimes trying to figure out how to build in that flexibility may be more challenging. And that’s where federal policies, tax policies, childcare policies -- that can make a difference. It’s not just to help the individual. It’s also to help the small business who may not have the resources that a Google or a Ford Motor Company might have in terms of creating a more family-friendly workplace.
But this is an area that we’re going to have to spend more time on. And, by the way, I just want to emphasize this -- this is not a women’s issue, this is a family issue. Women now bring in close to half of all income, and there are a whole lot of families out there where the woman is the primary breadwinner. And if Michelle is not being paid fairly, then that’s not helping me. I want her to get what she rightfully deserves. I want her being paid the same as a man doing the same job, because that is helping our family.
I will say, the First Lady is kind of a bad example, because the First Lady doesn’t get paid. And she works pretty hard. Obviously, we’re okay. (Laughter.)
But the truth is, this is a family issue. And also, by the way, more men, fathers -- we just had Father’s Day a couple of days ago -- more men want to be involved in their kids’ childhood as well. And so flexibility, family leave -- those are all policies that are critically important to all of us.
Q Hi, Mr. President. My name is Jayon Wang. I was a Sidwell Friends grad in 2009 and a Carnegie Mellon engineer, and now I lead our efforts at Lifeshel, a Pittsburgh startup that aims to use smartphone cases to prevent sexual assault.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s excellent. And it’s good to know that Sidwell graduates are doing something with their life.
THE PRESIDENT: My kids go to Sidwell, so I want to -- (laughter) -- that’s good to know.
Q So my question surrounds the various efforts at the White House and all the task forces that are being implemented -- what can young startups do to aid the White House in its task forces, and also, how can we participate in these movements and make sure that our efforts are best utilized?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we’d love to find out what you’re thinking about in terms of using technology more effectively. Obviously, the issue of sexual assault is something that all of us should be alarmed by. I think you’ve seen an increase in awareness, some increase in reporting, but it is still way too pervasive. And recently, we have been taking on not only sexual assault on college campuses but also in our military, where -- as Commander-in-Chief, I’ve said to our top brass, you will be measured in part by your performance, in how well you do in changing a culture here in which sexual assault is still way too common.
So we’ve got an ongoing taskforce. What we’ll do is get in contact with you and find out the kind of work that you’re doing. I’m assuming, if you’re talking about smartphones, part of the tool here is the ability for people to alert, using a smartphone, friends, family, law enforcement quickly if they find themselves in a tough situation. And they can press a button and they don’t have to be fumbling around and dialing, which I think is a great idea, and let’s see if we can highlight it and find out more about it.
I love, by the way, my -- have we got my tea somewhere? I got a cup of tea. I know it’s out there somewhere. Have somebody bring it up for me.
Yes, right there.
Q Hello, Mr. President. I’m Jean Fry (ph). I’m originally from Detroit; I’m living in Pittsburgh and have been here for 30 years. So you obviously know the history of manufacturing and its demise and whatever, and I understand the situation with families and such. I have a little bit of a unique situation. I’m going to be 60 in February, and I have been a stay-at-home mom and now going through a divorce. I’ve been placed in a job through TechShop, or through the MAKERSHiP program, and I’ve very grateful for that. I’m just kind of wondering what’s going to happen in my life getting kind of a late start in the workforce again as far as am I ever going to be able to retire, things like that.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there are a couple of questions involved there. First of all, I don’t want to sugarcoat it -- it is tougher to lose your job when you’re in your 50s or early 60s, because employers oftentimes -- it may be unspoken and they may not even be conscious of the bias -- oftentimes they’re thinking, let me hire the 20-something or 30-something-year-old; if I’m going to make an investment in them, then they’ll be potentially working for a long time.
One thing that has helped, by the way, is the Affordable Care Act -- because in the past, a lot of employers thought to themselves, if I have an older worker that means that I may have higher health care costs. We have seen over the last three years the slowest increase in health care costs in 50 years. For small employers, oftentimes their employees may be able to get health care through the Affordable Care Act, where the employer, him or herself can’t provide health care. So that’s helped.
So I would argue that oftentimes older workers are the best workers. They’ve got experience. They know how to work with others. They’ve gone through a lot of the things that younger workers have to go through to settle down a little bit. I won’t mention specifics, but they’re less likely to go out late at night after work, for example.
So in terms of reliability, skill, conscientiousness, I think that older workers are a great investment, particularly because people are healthier now and they’re living longer and they’re taking care of themselves more.
But older workers who lose their jobs have to recognize that they are probably going to have to adapt and retool in order to get an opportunity. If you lose your job at 55, you may not be able to be in the same industry that you were in before. And you may have to spend a little bit of time at school. You may have to make a pitch to an employer -- give me a chance for a short time, and let me show you what I can do. It’s not always fair, but that may be what’s required.
Q I went to school, too, and now at my age I’m straddled with $30,000 in student debt in a field that I couldn’t get a job in, too. So I mean, there’s that added to the problem, too.
THE PRESIDENT: Right. Look, the whole issue of student debt is something that all of us have to address in a serious way, and we’re spending a lot of time focusing on universities and colleges to keep their costs down. And we’ve got legislation that got voted down by Republicans in Congress most recently to allow people to refinance their student debt. That’s got to be a priority as well.
But the good news is that the economy now has produced more than 9 million jobs over the last four and a half years. And so although the economy is still healing, generally the employment outlook now is better than it’s been since the Great Recession, since I came into office. That then means that, as there are more job openings, it’s a little bit more of -- applicants are going to have a little more leverage in terms of possibly getting hired, and that means that some folks who have been discouraged from getting into the workplace over the last several years are going to start finding that their skills are a little more appreciated than they were in the past.
Q Hi, Mr. President. My name is John Naples. I’m a chairman -- union sheet metal worker, and I take part at the MAKERSHiP project here at TechShop, which helps people develop skills to place them in solid middle-class jobs. And I run a volunteer welding focus group on Thursdays. Anyway, my ultimate goal is to start my own business, and I’d prefer to use organized labor because I know the level of our training and the pride that we take in our work. And I want to know how you think becoming a union contractor and using union labor can help an upstart business or an entrepreneur be successful, and how can we make it easier for people like me to make the transition from union worker to business owner.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, Pittsburgh historically has been a union town. America was built by workers who over time, through a lot of struggle, got the right to bargain collectively. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that our middle class was built in part because unions were able to negotiate weekends and overtime and benefits -- things that now non-union workers take for granted. Well, you got those because unions were out there fighting for you for a very long time.
Now, it’s no secret that unions have been back on their heels a little bit over the last several decades. Part of that has to do with the globalization of the economy. Companies say to themselves, well, we can move anywhere -- now that supply chains are dictated more by technology, the cost of transportation has dropped. And that has given unions less leverage. And so only a small percentage of private sector jobs now are unionized.
I would continue to argue that we should do everything we can to strengthen unions in this country. Unions have to be flexible. Unions have to recognize that if you’re working for a company, that that company has to have a bottom line; they’re competing against non-union labor as well. The good news, though, is that typically union workers know how to do the job. And so what you may lose incrementally because you’re paying slightly higher wages or higher benefits, you’re gaining in skills, reliability, productivity. And if you can create a culture where employers and workers feel both invested, those are the companies that succeed over time and can thrive.
Now, if you’re an entrepreneur, if you’re starting off and you’re a skilled tradesman, I think the challenges in terms of that transition are the same as for everybody who wants to start a business. Typically, the issue is, can you get capital to start it up, are you able to market what you do in a way that gets you customers, are you able to run your business efficiently enough that you actually get in the black at some point, are you willing to put in a whole lot of extra hours -- because if you’re used to getting paid overtime but you now own the business, it doesn’t really matter if you’re paying yourself overtime because it’s coming out of your pocket anyway.
And so sometimes that transition I think is going to be tough. But I don’t think the transition is going to be any tougher for somebody coming out of a trade as anybody who’s starting a business. It’s hard starting a small business, and the majority of small business startups fail. The interesting this is the United States remains the place where people are most willing to try and start something up and take those risks, and part of what we should be doing is encouraging that culture.
When it comes to small businesses, for example, they were the hardest hit during the recession. What we did was we significantly increased the amount of small business loans that we were willing to give, and we cut down some of the red tape to help people access that financing more quickly. We cut taxes about 18 times for small businesses to incentivize them to hire new workers or invest in new plants and equipment.
And I’m constantly looking for ways that we can encourage small business formation. But having said all that, if you’re the guy who is actually starting something up, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a restaurant, you’re trying to become a contractor, or you’re trying to start a high-tech manufacturing firm -- you’re going to be putting a lot of hours and your odds of success are still going to be challenging. On the other hand, that’s what America is all about -- taking some risks.
Q Thank you for taking my question. My name is Gordon Kirkwood, and I’m working out of TechShop here with a small startup called Whimsy Engineering. I’ve previously been in graduate school and engineering and not felt the access that we have with places like TechShop here to operate cutting-edge equipment to cut metal, to cut plastics, to do really sophisticated things -- machines that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And so personally, I found this to be a great enabler. But I’m thinking about what could facilitate this sort of enabling for people in other cities. And I can only imagine an incredible revival in American manufacturing and invention if more people had access to this sort of cheap -- I mean, for the cost of a smartphone or a gym membership, to be able to have access to lasers that will cut -- or water jets that will cut through plate steel and welding, and making anything.
So in the context of other costs that other cities incur -- like roads, for instance -- and I understand that for a mile of highway road -- or for a city road, it’s a couple hundred thousand dollars for a mile of city road according to our guy here. And highway construction I understand sometimes is up to a million or two for a mile. When you start looking in terms of that cost, I wonder if we can promote this sort of access to take those risks at lower risk to your pocket better by promoting these in more cities and things like that.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, one of the things that we’re already doing as part of our overall effort is to find ways that we can make the resources of the federal government more available to the general public.
So, for example, the Department of Energy -- which has some cutting-edge technology and laboratories -- if, in fact, they are not being utilized 100 percent, are there ways in which in a controlled way we can give more access to these assets for companies that are trying to start something up.
One of the things that we’re looking at is NASA, which has incredible equipment -- are they able to work with companies in their areas so that there may be certain hours or certain periods of time where folks with proper training are able to use some of these assets.
I mean, in some ways, part of what technology has enabled is the same thing that’s driving something like Uber or Airbnb, this concept of share economy. Well, the federal government has a lot of assets; can we figure out ways in which, when those assets are being underutilized, somebody who might be able to utilize them could use them. And so I think we’re thinking more creatively about that.
Another example is, the federal government possesses incredible amounts of data. And one of the things that we’ve been doing a lot with the high-tech community is thinking about, with proper restrictions to protect privacy and so forth, are there ways for us to generate some of this big data that then ends up being the platform by which we can come up with applications on a smartphone.
Essentially, all the weather apps that you have on your phone are all based on data that the government collected -- the National Weather Service. Which is why, by the way, when there’s a government shutdown, people should remember the government does a lot of things you just don’t notice and that a lot of businesses rely on.
But there are a whole host of other bits of data that are embedded. Google Maps, in part, started with the fact that there's a whole bunch of maps out there that are already part of the public record, and data has already been collected. And if you can make that accessible, that then suddenly becomes an opportunity for somebody creatively to look at that data in new ways and come up with new ways of creating useful services or products.
So this is an area I think that we’re going to continue to explore. Obviously, we’ve got to -- I can’t have -- I can’t rent out the space shuttle to you, or whatever. (Laughter.) I mean, there’s going to be some particle collider that’s worth a billion dollars I don’t want you messing around with. (Laughter.) I want physicists in there doing the work. But what we know is, is that there are areas where we can, in fact, enhance what’s already being done by companies like TechShop.
Universities, by the way, are in the same situation. Universities have a lot of access -- or generally have the capital to make large investments, particularly big research universities. Obviously, their first and primary mission is to educate. But the more we can encourage partnerships with universities and local businesses, the possibilities of collaboration and economies of scale, the possibilities of us saving money and creating more entrepreneurship opportunities are going to grow.
And, look, a city -- you mentioned earlier about moving from Detroit to Pittsburgh. If you think about the contrast between Pittsburgh and Detroit -- and there are obviously a lot of reasons why some cities were able to bounce back when manufacturing started taking a beating -- part of it was Pittsburgh had these incredible anchor universities that created the ability to diversify their economies, your economy in a way that was a little tougher for Detroit to do.
But every city that is succeeding today in this global marketplace has to have some mechanism where the private sector is collaborating with the public sector, with universities, because nobody can do it alone.
Yes, right there. Right in front of you.
Q Hi. I’m Anne Lopez, and I’m the founder and CEO of a company called Romeo Delivers.
THE PRESIDENT: I’m sorry, what’s it called?
Q Romeo Delivers.
THE PRESIDENT: Romeo Delivers. Tell me about Romeo Delivers.
Q So we’re on a mission to help strengthen relationships.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I see. Okay. (Laughter.) So what exactly is Romeo delivering? (Laughter.)
Q It’s G-rated.
THE PRESIDENT: This is a family-friendly show. (Laughter.)
Q It is. We’re a family-friendly business as well. And we just really believe that there are ways that couples can be communicating and interacting in a more fun and romantic way that, I think because of the digital age, that we think texting and things doesn’t really replace that physical interaction, and, like, writing notes to each other and doing things like that.
So we design and manufacture products that inspire that. And I would love to ask you for some examples of things that you have found that are important in your relationship, and that maybe you do, as an example, for your kids that really show that you’re caring -- because you’re traveling so much, and you’re a great example of someone who’s busy.
THE PRESIDENT: Without getting too personal -- (laughter) -- I will say this -- that some of this is generational, but I do find that Malia and Sasha’s generation, they live so much on their phones that it’s harder for them to create, maintain keepsakes and objects that show attachment, relationships, et cetera. So I think it’s a great idea.
Now, to her credit, Malia, for example, wrote me a letter for Father’s Day, which obviously was a lot more important to me than if she had just texted a little emoji or whatever those things are. (Laughter.) And I’m a big believer in our kids making stuff, and when I think about the gifts that have been most precious to me and the things that I think have been most precious to them, it’s something that I did as opposed to something that I bought.
So I probably could have used your service, you could have given me some even better ideas. My craftsmanship has not always been excellent. But I do think that part of what is interesting in this moment in our economy is also what’s scary about it. Very few people are going to live and work in one company for 30 years. That model doesn’t exist. There’s just too much disruption, because technology moves too quickly and globalization moves too quickly.
And so the skill sets that we want to pass onto our kids are the basics, the foundations -- communications, numeracy, things like that. But it’s also the ability to create, to adapt; to get an idea, execute that idea. And what’s exciting is, is that people have more tools than they ever had in their hands to do that. That’s true whether it’s manufacturing, that’s true whether it’s managing relationships, that’s true whether you want to start a business.
So individuals have been empowered. That’s an exciting moment because it gives us an opportunity to tap into more creativity than ever before. The flipside of it is that you are going to have to adapt and retool and get new skills and be able to understand new technologies much more rapidly than the previous generation did. And so there’s that adaptability that has to be built into everything we do, and we have to be able to pass that onto our kids.
But I’ll look up on your website. I’ll see if I can get some new ideas for Michelle. (Laughter.) Thanks.
Last question. Gentleman right here. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. Good afternoon, sir. My name is Larry Lesniak, and I have a small family business. We do highly specialized woodworking. We build weaving looms for fiber artists across the U.S. We use TechShop as an extension of our manufacturing capability. And in looking at some of the points that you’ve made about children being creative and people being able to access these technologies, one of the things we did -- when you hear about public-private partnerships, it’s normally construed to be a large-scale. We donated a 3D printer to our local library, and it has been hugely successful.
We’d like to continue that by adding additional technology -- small laser, small CNC. But that idea of making it publicly available, we now have one of the smallest libraries in the country that has that type of technology available. And really, this isn’t so much a question as a suggestion -- that’s another means of putting these tools in the hands of the public, and in fact, to people across all age spectrums. We focus very appropriately on formal education up through community colleges and such, but having that just generally available to anybody who wants to take the small training course and then come in and create something that they’ve designed is a very powerful concept. And we can leverage the local libraries to accomplish that.
THE PRESIDENT: I think that’s a great idea. And, look, I’m a big library guy anyway. I love librarians, so a shout-out to all librarians out there.
But you’re absolutely right that what we’re seeing around the country is libraries having to adapt and retool. I still love books and I still love the feel of turning a page, and going into a library. But the truth of the matter is, is that the amount of space you need for storage in a library has changed. Reading patterns have changed. People are a lot more tech-savvy, visual than they used to be. And what that means is, is that the library is a central repository for information. That needs to be adapted to the 21st century.
And the idea of using libraries as a center point -- or a focal point along with universities, along with public schools, along with certain government agencies where people can access the tools to make things I think is a great idea. And so hopefully some librarians are out there listening.
Generally, the federal government doesn’t manage libraries, so this would -- you talk to the mayor here, I’ll bet he’s got some pull maybe with the libraries here in Pittsburgh. But I think it’s a wonderful idea.
Let me just close by saying this -- I want to repeat: Manufacturing is doing better than it’s done in the last -- any time in the last 20 years. We’re seeing more entrepreneurship in manufacturing than we’ve seen in the last 20 years, more manufacturing startups. Large manufacturers who had moved overseas are starting to bring manufacturing back, in part because our workers are so productive. We remain the largest and most prosperous market in the world, and because of things like energy costs that are a lot lower here in the United States than they are in a lot of other places in the country.
So we’ve got a lot of things going for us. The one thing that’s inhibiting us is we are not maximizing policies that would give an extra boost to manufacturing. You were mentioning roads earlier -- we’ve got $2 trillion worth of deferred maintenance -- roads, bridges, water systems, a smart grid that can transmit energy more efficiently, an air traffic control system that could cut airline emissions by 30 percent, their fuels by 30 percent, which would actually potentially lower airline ticket prices and reduce delays.
All of that would be a huge boost to manufacturing, and those jobs can’t be exported, because they’ve got to be -- by definition, if you’re rebuilding infrastructure, it’s got to be done here. The fact that Congress has not been willing to take me up so far on my proposal to aggressively fund infrastructure right now makes no sense. We would reduce our unemployment rate, put hard hats back to work right now. And the spinoffs would be enormous.
We know that if we changed our tax code so that instead of giving tax loopholes to things that aren’t producing economic value and instead are incentivizing and reducing the tax burden on small startups and folks who are doing manufacturing, that would give a boost to our economy right now.
So there are just certain steps that we can be taking to accelerate the great work that’s already being done around the country, building off what the private sector does, but leveraging it. Investing more in research and development -- that always has big payoffs. Making sure that we’ve investing in our community colleges so that our workers are trained for the jobs that are actually created.
This is a challenging and competitive time. But as I told you before, if you ask companies where’s the best place to do business, they say the United States of America, that’s where we want to invest in. That’s the first time they’ve said that in over a decade. People think we’ve got the best cards, but we’ve got to use them. And that requires Congress breaking out of this mentality that says, if I propose it, they’re opposed to it -- I’m talking, obviously, about the Republicans.
And we’re not going to agree on everything, but we can agree on some basic steps that historically weren’t partisan. Infrastructure didn’t used to be partisan. Eisenhower worked with Democrats to build an Interstate Highway System. Research and development didn’t used to be partisan. That was something everybody agreed was important to make, and government had to make those investments, in some cases, because the private sector just couldn’t justify the cost of true basic research.
Making sure that we had the best university system in the world and that it was accessible. When I went to school, the amount of debt that I took out for my entire undergraduate education -- and I got some grants, and I worked while I was there -- but I basically paid off my entire student debt my first year out of school. I had to take a job I didn’t like that much to do it, but I knocked it out. Kids these days are just as hardworking if not more hardworking and conscientious than I am, but they’re still coming out with $25,000, $30,000 worth of debt. We can do something about that.
So I don’t -- I want everybody to feel optimistic and hopeful about the future of manufacturing and the future of entrepreneurship, and the future of the American economy and our huge advantage in innovation. But I want also everybody to be paying attention to the debates that are taking place in Washington, and don’t just take for granted that somehow gridlock is inevitable, or that we don’t have good policies that we could be pursuing right now -- we do. The reason we don’t pursue them is because of politics. And we’ve got one party that just decides they want to say no to everything because they’re looking at the next election instead of what’s good for the next generation.
All of you inspire confidence in me. And if that’s reflected in how we operate in Washington, I think we’re going to do just fine.
Thanks, everybody. (Applause.)
2:40 P.M. EDT