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Obama: Education Key to US Competitiveness

President Barack Obama is greeted by Intel CEO Paul Otellini after touring an Intel facility in Hillsboro, Ore., February 18, 2011

President Obama used a visit to the U.S. West coast this week to highlight the importance of improving education standards to ensure future U.S. competitiveness. He met with leaders of American technology companies, and visited high-tech facilities at Intel Corporation in Oregon.

Obama's visit to Intel, and private talks the previous day with technology business leaders, were part of his drive to underscore the private sector role in driving economic recovery and highlight the role of education in American competitiveness.

After touring Intel's advanced semiconductor facility with CEO Paul Otellini, the president returned to a major theme of his State of the Union Address - that future economic strength depends on making America's education system competitive with other nations.

Even as Americans learn to "live within [their] means" in fiscal terms, Obama said, the nation has no choice but to invest in the future, and that means focusing "like a laser" on education.

"We can’t win the future if we lose the race to educate our children. Can’t do it. In today’s economy, the quality of a nation’s education is one of the biggest predictors of a nation’s success. It is what will determine whether the American Dream survives."

The president said education, and investment in research and development, are key to a future in which technological innovations begin in the United States rather than overseas.

"If we want the next technological breakthrough that leads to the next Intel, to happen here in the United States - not in China or not in Germany, but here in the United States - then we have to invest in America’s research and technology; in the work of our scientists and our engineers."

The president has named Otellini to serve on a newly-created Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which is headed by another business executive, Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric.

Otellini has been among critics of Obama administration policies, saying they have failed to create enough business and consumer confidence. In a recent speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Obama urged companies to "get off the sidelines" and do more to help create jobs.

Introducing the president, Otellini referred to what he called a need to "re-ignite" innovation as a means to create jobs and wealth, and pointed to Intel investments in education, particularly in science and math.

"Building such a future requires more than just investments in technology and manufacturing," said Otellini. "We also need to invest in educating and training the workers that will invent and manage the industries of the future."

In his remarks in Oregon, President Obama once again touted his "Race to the Top" initiative, which challenges school systems across the country to raise standards in return for federal aid.

He also pointed to his STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) initiative, an effort to train 100,000 new teachers over the next decade, along with steps designed to make college more affordable and efforts re-vitalize community colleges across the nation.

At a private dinner Thursday in San Francisco, Obama met with a dozen technology executives and innovators, including Steve Jobs of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and the CEOs of Twitter, Google and Yahoo.

Back in Washington, the president has a fight on his hands with opposition Republicans over his "Win the Future" innovation drive. They have labeled many of his investment initiatives as "big spending" that can't be supported in difficult economic times.

Even as he proposes spending cuts in his 2012 budget aimed at bringing down the $1.3 trillion federal deficit, and more than $14 trillion national debt, Mr. Obama has vowed to fight to preserve investments in what he calls core areas vital to securing U.S. competitiveness.