President Barack Obama acted as a pitchman for entrepreneurs on Tuesday afternoon, fielding questions from small-business owners in an attempt to highlight creative ways to bolster manufacturing.
President Obama, frustrated by congressional inaction on his infrastructure agenda, is seeking to demonstrate his ability to make things happen. Tuesday’s event was planned to demonstrate the small steps that he can take to prod manufacturing without congressional approval.
The White House announced a program that helps provide entrepreneurs access to more than $5 billion in advanced manufacturing equipment. And the administration said that five federal agencies would invest $150 million to support the Materials Genome Initiative to study advanced materials.
But the centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s trip here was his visit to TechShop, a workshop that provides entrepreneurs and business owners with the ability to use 3-D printers and other equipment to create prototypes they could otherwise not afford to make.
During a tour of the workshop, business owners showed Mr. Obama their use of 3-D printers, laser etchers and small mold makers to create objects quickly and at a low cost.
One demonstrated how he could make objects out of red plastic like gears, circuit boards and a small bust of Abraham Lincoln using a 3-D printer. Another used a Speedy 300 laser machine by Troctec to etch designs into wood. Mr. Obama held up a wooden snowflake that was etched by the machine.
“This is pretty,” he said.
An employee of TechShop, Terry Sandin, showed the president how to create a plastic mold of the presidential seal. He told the president that he was from Hawaii and was going back soon, prompting the president to ask whether he could go with him.
“You gotta buy your own ticket,” Mr. Sandin said.
“I have this lease on a plane,” Mr. Obama said, prompting laughter from reporters following him.
After the tour, Mr. Obama took questions from several dozen people at TechShop in a 40-minute question-and-answer session. Most of the questions centered on how the government could do more to help small-business owners and entrepreneurs.
The president seemed to relish the opportunity to discuss the issue, sitting on a wooden stool as he talked about the issues confronting American small-business owners.
“Older workers who lose their jobs have to recognize that they are going to have to adapt and retool in order to get an opportunity,” Mr. Obama said in response to one question from a woman who said she was turning 60 soon. “You may not be able to be in the same industry you were before.”
“It’s not always fair, but it may be what’s required,” Mr. Obama said.
One young man wanted to know how his small smartphone company might help the president’s task force on sexual assaults. Mr. Obama said that “we’d love to find out what you are thinking.”
Another woman said she ran a company, called Romeo Delivers, that works to help families build relationships.
“What exactly is it that Romeo delivers?” Mr. Obama asked before quickly adding: “That’s O.K. This is a family-friendly show.”
The question from the woman prompted the most personal answer of the day. She asked whether the president could offer ways that he has built relationships with his family.
“Without getting too personal, I will say this,” Mr. Obama said. “I do find that Malia and Sasha’s generation, they live so much on their phones that it’s harder for them to create and maintain keepsakes and objects that show attachment relationships, etc.”
He said that his most precious gifts for his children were ones that he did not buy for them, though he admitted that “my craftsmanship has not always been excellent.”