President Obama campaigned vigorously for his revamped economic message Wednesday, warning that other countries have been grasping for first place in the global marketplace as the United States fell down on the job.
The president delivered the argument in Wisconsin, a state that will be critical to his re-election prospects, a day after a State of the Union address where he contended that the United States has to step up its spending on innovation and infrastructure in order to compete globally and create jobs at home.
The president said Wednesday that while China invested in clean energy technologies, "we fell down on the job. We weren't moving as fast as we should have."
"We're going to need to go all in. We're going to need to get serious about winning the future," Obama said during a stop at Orion Energy Systems, a power technology company in the small town of Manitowoc. Obama showcased Orion as a leader in solar power and energy-efficient technology, the kind of technologies the president argues are key for America's future competitiveness.
The president is calling for a new Sputnik moment, like the one in the 1950s when the Soviet Union beat the United States by sending a satellite into space -- spurring the United States to pour money into science and technology programs and eventually make it to the moon.
The challenge resonated in Manitowoc, a small city on the shores of Lake Michigan known best as the place where a 20-pound chunk of the Sputnik satellite crashed in 1962, an event marked by an annual "Sputnikfest." Obama insisted he hadn't known of the Sputnik connection when he picked Manitowoc as the first audience for the themes of competitiveness and innovation he will push through his 2012 re-election campaign. But it gave him a fitting backdrop.
"It was part of a satellite called Sputnik that landed right here and that set the Space Race in motion," Obama said. "So I want to say to you today that it's here, more than 50 years later, that the race for the 21st century will be won."
The stop at Orion was the first of three factory visits Obama made in Manitowoc. He also touted his small-business initiatives at Skana Aluminum Company, which took out a $5 billion Small Business Administration loan in December, and at Tower Tech Systems, where he traded his suit coat for a black company fleece and was shown a plate roller where steel is shaped into wind tower and turbine structures.