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Obama plugs small business at Ohio conference

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Obama calls for continued government investment in research
  • President Obama attends a business conference in Cleveland
  • "We're here to hear from you directly," the president says
  • Four Cabinet secretaries and two other advisers flew to Ohio with Obama

Cleveland (CNN) -- President Barack Obama told a conference of would-be entrepreneurs Tuesday that continued government investment in research and development was necessary to keep U.S. businesses competitive in the 21st century.

Joined by members of his Cabinet at the small business conference at Cleveland State University in Ohio, Obama touted his administration's efforts to boost small business and also got in a plug for the budget he delivered to Congress last week.

In particular, Obama called for maintaining key investments in clean energy and science while also cutting government spending and reducing the federal deficit and debt.

"I want to work with both Democrats and Republicans to make even bigger dents in our deficit," Obama said in closing remarks, but added that government funding for scientific research grants and other support is essential to helping American businesses succeed.

"If we don't, tomorrow's businesses won't take root here ... and you won't be able to compete," Obama said.

The president was accompanied by four Cabinet secretaries -- Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

All four, as well as Small Business Administration chief Karen Mills and White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Austan Goolsbee, led sessions aimed at collecting ideas from local businesses and outlining their own efforts to boost jobs.

America continues to be an outstanding manufacturer of goods desired around the world, Obama said, but it needs to adjust to changing production models.

"The challenge, the difference is that what used to take 1,000 people to manufacture, might now take 100 or 10 because of increases in productivity," Obama said.

He noted that the conference's breakout sessions focused on five key issues: entrepreneurship to convert ideas into viable businesses; access to capital to develop those ideas; local training programs for workforce development; obstacles to exporting U.S. goods; and opportunities in developing a clean energy economy in the 21st century.

December's unemployment rate was 9.6 percent in Ohio, a longtime battleground state in presidential races. The figure is down from 9.8 percent the previous month and 10.8 percent the year before, and Obama noted Cleveland had been working to reinvent itself from its rust belt image to a high tech center.

Obama tied Tuesday's event to the "Winning the Future" theme he unveiled during January's State of the Union address, and said the budget cuts he proposed last week will free up funds to promote high-tech innovation.

"By cutting back on what we don't need, we can invest in the future, we can invest in things that are critical to our long-term success," Obama said.

The president cited examples of how government assistance can help businesses expand, mentioning a $5.5 million SBA loan that led to an Ohio cheese company doubling its production of ricotta. Obama called it the "tastiest investment" the government has done.

 
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