TROY, NY - Visiting a community college Monday in New York State's Capital Region, U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled new federal proposals intended to spur the creation of high-technology jobs, boost 21st century education and foster innovation that will revitalize the economy.
Although the president's visit to Hudson Valley Community College was a scripted, controlled event with only minor interaction with the public and no question-and-answer session with the press, Obama received a warm welcome and plenty of media attention.
The President announced his administration's initiatives - dubbed the Strategy for Innovation and Sustainable Growth, in front of an audience of about 200 Capital Region business leaders, politicians, and 60 HVCC students in an automotive technology classroom - essentially a repair garage which until late last week hosted cars perched on vehicle lifts.
The initiatives include boosting college enrollment by increasing federal Pell grants to college students, creating a simplified $2,500 tax credit for college tuition, boosting aid to soldiers returning from combat in the mideast, liberalizing college aid by shifting aid qualifications from evaluating past annual pay to present earnings, and increasing federal support to community colleges.
He also voiced support for a bill that passed the House of Representatives last week that calls for the government to lend to students directly for college tuition, saving $80 billion in federal student loan subsidies and guarantees now going to banks. This money would be redirected to beefing up Pell grants and fund incentives for students to graduate, he said.
"These savings will allow us to make the largest investment ever in the most under-appreciated asset of our educational system: community colleges like Hudson Valley which are so essential to the future of young people and our economy," he said.
He also said he'd be promoting broadband development - and he proposed establishing grants to explore next-generation communication breakthroughs.
Obama also said he'd be lobbying for a new emphasis on research nationally, through establishing new tax credits to businesses, or grant programs spurring technological, scientific and medical research.
The tax credits would help companies develop new technologies and products.
Also, Obama called for eliminating capital gains taxes for investments in small or startup businesses - which often generate the new technologies.
The President also urged Congress to pass health insurance reform to relieve a burden on small businesses and boost worker security. He also said the government would be ramping up its financial incentives for the health care industries to computerize individuals' health records, and pursuing its goals of promoting clean energy innovation.
"This is a strategy that is essential for our recovery today and our prosperity tomorrow," he said, stabbing the air with his index finger. "From biotechnology to nanotechnology, from the development of new forms of energy to research into treatments of ancient diseases, there is so much potential to change our world and improve our lives - while creating jobs all across America."
Obama's exhortations, including calling HVCC a "world-class" educational institution, prompted cheers from students viewing the speech in a nearby theater.
"I'm absolutely ecstatic that Obama chose our college to announce these initiatives," said HVCC student Nick Skinner of Corinth. "If he accomplishes his goals, it will be easier for students to get into schools, graduate and get a job afterwards."
His classmate, Steve Caruso of East Greenbush, agreed.
"This may open up a lot of new opportunities for students," he said.
When Air Force One touched down at Albany International Airport, greeting him were Congressmen Scott Murphy (D-Glens Falls) and Paul Tonko (D-Amsterdam), followed by Gov. David Paterson and Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings.
Hundreds of well-wishers, gawkers, and demonstrators lined the streets leading to the HVCC campus for both his arrival and departure.
Dozens of NRA members sported yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flags, while dozens of elderly in red AARP T-shirts waved placards expressing support for the public option in health care.
One of the AARP demonstrators was Kathy Oughton of Ephratah, NY, who jumped up on her toes after seeing the president roll past in his limousine.
"I saw him clear as a bell," she said. "He looked right at me and smiled and waved," she said in an excited tone.