"When change happens, you've got a choice," Obama told an audience at the Alcoa Inc. Davenport Works Factory in Bettendorf. "You can either keep on doing what you were doing and hope things work out, or you can make the decision that not only you can meet the challenges of the future, but you can help set the pace."
The tanking of the economy in general and the manufacturing sector in particular when he first took office "demanded that we make some tough decisions that we now know have pulled our economy back from the brink and put us on a better path."
Within the past 15 months, Obama said, more than 2 million new private-sector jobs were created, nearly a quarter-million in manufacturing.
But with millions of Americans still out of work, more needs to be done, Obama said.
"The problems that we developed didn't happen overnight. We're not going to solve them overnight either," Obama said. "But we will solve them. We'll solve them because after all we've been through, we are still the United States of America."
The United States is home to the largest economy, best universities, the most successful companies and "the best innovators and entrepreneurs," Obama said.
"We've got the best workers in the world," the president said to rousing applause. "Together, we've got the capacity not only to get back to where we were, but to get to where we need to be."
"And here at this plant, the workers that were laid off during the darkest days of the recession have all been hired back," he said. "And in fact, you guys are telling me that you're thinking about hiring some more folks in the near future. That's worth applauding."
Which the audience did.
A big part of America's future has to be a robust, growing manufacturing sector, the president said.
"We've got to make things right here in America," Obama said. "We've always made things here in America. It's in our blood."
The Alcoa plant had to invest in new skills and processes to keep up and succeed, he said.
"You had to up your game. And that's what we've got to do as a country as a whole," Obama said. "I want the cars and planes and wind turbines of the future to bear the proud stamp that says 'Made in America.' That's what I want."
Adapting and innovating and thinking as a team, instead of turning on each other, will make America successful, he said.
"If we continue to adapt and we continue to innovate and we work together to compete around the world, America will come back stronger than before," Obama said. "We will lead the way forward."
Before his speech, Obama toured the facilities, stopping at three different machines and talking to workers stationed at each.
During his speech, Obama said the Davenport Works factory was responsible for making the aluminum for the wings for the 747 and 757 versions of Air Force One.
"I want to thank all of you for getting me here in one piece," Obama said. "It was a pretty smooth ride, thanks to Alcoa."