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Obama talks tech jobs in Az campaign swing

Intel's Chandler campus is second stop on three-day tour

In the shadow of a $5 billion Intel plant being built in Chandler, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that high-tech manufacturing can get the U.S. economy on track.

The Phoenix suburb was the second stop on a three-day, five-state post-State of the Union swing through battleground states by the president.

In a late afternoon speech, Obama echoed his theme of increasing the number of high-tech and manufacturing jobs in the United States, as well as meeting the need for skilled tech workers by improving the nation's educational system.

"Lets stop rewarding business that ship jobs oversees and reward companies like Intel," Obama said.

He proposed a simple plan to "build stuff, make stuff and sell stuff all over the world."

Obama acknowledged Gabrielle Giffords, who stepped down from Congress on Wednesday. Obama embraced the congresswoman on the floor of the House of Representatives before giving his annual address Tuesday night.

"We could not be more happy to see her, she looked just gorgeous," Obama said. "She has been an inspiration."

Shouts of "Gabby! Gabby!" rose from the crowd of about 6,000 invited guests; many were Intel employees.

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Those who attended hoped Obama would address many issues, but jobs and the economy were on the forefront of their minds.

"Job creation and the economy, that should be number one," said Rafael Portela, an Intel program manager.

"I know he'll talk about economic recovery," said Cay Strange, the mother of an Intel employe.

"But, there's not a single-handed solution he can propose, it needs to be everybody," Strange said.

'Build stuff, make stuff and sell stuff all over the world'

The president complimented Intel's efforts to create jobs in America, train tomorrow's workers and develop new technology.

A day after touting American manufacturing's potential to fix the economy in his State of the Union, Obama noted that many other manufacturing companies have moved factories to other countries to limit labor costs. That undercuts middle-class workers, he said.

"We’ve got to come together and restore the American promise," he said.

"If you work hard, you can do well enough to raise a family, own a home, get your kids to college, put away a little money for retirement and maybe come down here to Arizona."

"I am here because the factory that is being built behind me is an example of an America within our reach," he said.

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"Our economy is getting stronger, we've come too far to turn back now," Obama said. He also appealed to Congress to pass tax cuts for middle-class Americans.

'Young people, you better have done some math'

"Tax breaks for the rich will add to our deficit or take away from someone else," Obama said. When he called for the nation to invest in education, the crowd cheered.

While Obama spoke, an American flag hung from the skeletal metal framework of the computer chip plant. What he called the world's largest land crane, along with several others in bright yellows and reds, towered over the president.

"That thing is huge," Obama joked.

The project, Fab 42, will employ about 1,000 workers and be the most advanced high-volume computer chip plant in the world when it's completed in 2013, according to Intel.

"Young people, you better have done some math," Obama said.

He highlighted the need for more qualified science and technology workers to fill positions that factories like Fab 42 will create.

Swing state?

Obama's trip is a sign that Arizona will be heavily contested by Democrats in this year's elections, but Republicans pushed back Wednesday on the idea that it could be a swing state.

Other stops on the campaign swing include Cedar Rapids, Iowa, earlier Wednesday, and Las Vegas and Denver on Thursday. Obama will visit Detroit on Friday, the White House said.

Although the main election battlegrounds are likely to remain Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Democrats are eyeing several western states, including Arizona, Colorado and Nevada, for potential electoral gains as Hispanic voters grow in importance. Republicans plan to press the president's party in economically stressed states like Michigan.

Earlier in the day, Republicans voiced their own suggestions for Obama's Arizona visit.

U.S. Sen. John McCain urged Obama to visit the border in a press release.

"I sincerely hope that the President will use his time in Arizona to talk to the people that are suffering the most under his administration's failed policies," McCain said.

U.S. Rep. Ben Quayle and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus echoed McCain in a Wednesday afternoon conference call.

Quayle expressed surprise at Obama's choice to visit Arizona in the first place.

"Arizona is not going to be a battleground state," Quayle said.

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The state went for President Bill Clinton in 1996, but has voted Republican in all of the other presidential races since 1948.

The Phoenix Republican called on the president to "listen to Arizona struggling in this economy."

Priebus faulted Obama on delivering "more failed promises and more empty rhetoric."

When Obama arrived in Phoenix, he was met by Gov. Jan Brewer, with whom he had a tense exchange. At one point, the governor shook her finger at the president, who walked away from Brewer.

Nonetheless, the crowd in Chandler was dotted with "Obama 2012" pins and guests excited for the chance to see a sitting president.

"I grew up in an era where you respected the president regardless of your beliefs," Strange said.

The Phoenix-area stop was Obama's fifth trip to the state since his Jan. 2009 inauguration.

Last year, he spoke at a Tucson memorial service honoring the victims of the Jan. 8 shootings.

He made three Arizona trips in 2009: to Mesa to speak about the housing crisis; to Tempe to deliver an ASU commencement address; and to Phoenix to speak at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. Obama also made a visit to the Grand Canyon with his family before speaking to the VFW.

TucsonSentinel.com’s Dylan Smith and Cronkite News Service’s Jordan Moon contributed to this story.

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Will Seberger/TucsonSentinel.com

President Obama waves to the crowd at the Intel campus in Chandler on Wednesday. Obama was there to discuss high-tech job creation and tour the computer chipmaker's facility.

Intel's Ocotillo Campus

Intel employs over 10,000 at its Ocotillo Campus in Chandler, the second-largest in the nation, the company said.

The U.S. Green Building Council awarded the site silver Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) status in 2011 for innovations in sustainability.

The campus captures and reuses storm water. Intel also uses wastewater to cool the plant instead of drinking water.

The company recycled 90 percnet of the site's solid waste in 2011 — over 10,000 tons.

The site uses 26 percent less energy than the average semiconductor campus, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.