At North Carolina State in Raleigh, Obama told a crowd -- estimated by a fire marshal at about 9,300 packed into a steamy auditorium -- he wanted to discuss "how America can get back to a place where we're creating good middle-class jobs again -- jobs that pay well; jobs that offer some security; jobs that are available for all the young people who are going to be graduating from N.C. State."
He outlined the American Jobs Act legislation he has sent to Congress, saying it would do two things: "It puts more people back to work, and it puts more money back into the pockets of working Americans."
He noted it contains items that have had bipartisan support in the past and will be paid for without adding to the deficit, including rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, including schools. And he called on Congress to pass it quickly.
"This is a common-sense idea," he said. "Governor [Bev] Perdue can tell you -- there are a lot of roads and a lot of bridges that need fixing. There is a lot of work that needs to be done in schools and airports. All these things are in need of repair.
"All across North Carolina, all across the country, there are schools with leaking ceilings and lousy heating; ventilation so poor it can make students sick. How can we expect our kids to do their best in places like that? And the answer is we can't.
"This is America. I don't know about you -- I don't know about you, but I don't want any of our young people studying in broken-down schools; I want our kids to study in the best schools. I don't want the newest airports or the fastest railroads being built in China; I want them being built right here in the United States of America. There are construction projects like these all across the country just waiting to get started. There are millions of unemployed construction workers looking for work. My question is, what's Congress waiting for? There's work to be done; there are workers ready to do it; let's pass this jobs bill right away and let's get it done."
Earlier, the president, accompanied by Perdue, toured a WestStar Precision plant in Apex that makes food trays for the airline industry.
"We've got good Pennsylvania aluminum coming down to North Carolina," Obama said.
WestStar employee Barry Blackman, 47, of Princeton, said he supports the president's jobs plan.
"He's got to get it through Congress and all that, but if he does it I think it'll be good for North Carolina and the United States," he said.
But Blackman is concerned about the federal deficit.
"What are we going to leave our kids in years to come?" Blackman asked while worrying about the debt his children, now ages 9 to 26, will be left to pay off in decades to come.
Blackman said Democrats and Republicans are "working against each other, and they're not trying to back each other to get through what we need to get through to make the U.S. a viable manufacturing industry again. Because a lot of our jobs have gone overseas."
Obama spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One the president was taking the step of ordering federal agencies to speed up payments to small contractors from 30 days to 15 days "so they can reinvest that money in the economy and drive job growth."
"The federal government pays small businesses nearly $100 billion each year for goods and services," Carney said. "By taking actions that will enable these payments to be made as promptly as possible, we will improve cash flow for small businesses and provide them with a more predictable stream of resources, thereby preserving and increasing small business participation in federal contracting."
He said the national jobs council "played a critical role" in pushing the initiative but didn't provide a time frame for when it will take effect.
Carney, asked about a Bloomberg News poll Wednesday indicating 51 percent of Americans say the president's jobs plan will not reduce unemployment, replied that means half of the American people think it will.