Obama tours 787 plant

President Obama on Friday called for more steps to help U.S. companies compete overseas, standing in front of an enormous Boeing Dreamliner to summon a bright future for American manufacturing and exports.

Visiting a Boeing plant in Washington state where he watched some of the massive 787s under assembly, Obama pushed for Congress to continue financing a national export credit agency crucial to a goal of doubling exports by 2014.

He pointed to the aviation giant as a homegrown company bolstering the U.S. economy by doing business overseas as he sought to make the case that the nation’s economy is on the rise.

“The tide is turning. The tide is beginning to turn our way,” Obama said in the cavernous Boeing plant before a few hundred cheering workers.

Obama’s visit was highly orchestrated to portray the strength of American manufacturing, set in a massive facility where the aviation giant builds the new 787 Dreamliner. After inspecting the aircraft, Obama emerged from the back of a behemoth white Dreamliner to deliver his remarks, walking down the red-carpeted stairs as “Hail to the Chief” blared on overhead speakers.

“You’re the most productive on earth. You can compete with anybody. You will outwork anybody,” Obama told the assembled workers. “As long as the playing field is level, you can compete with any worker, anywhere, anytime, in China, in Europe, it does not matter. If we have a level playing field, America will always win, because we have the best workers.”

The president announced steps to offer financing to U.S. companies to match help their foreign competitors get, with the goal of helping American industries compete.

Obama called on Congress to extend the Export-Import Bank’s authorization. White House officials said the bank will reach its lending limit at the end of March, and Obama pointed to it as a key player in helping promote U.S. exports.

At the same time, the White House announced that Boeing will participate in an Export-Import Bank program that helps companies advance money to suppliers on export-related contracts. Administration officials said Boeing would be committing to more than $700 million in short-term credit this year. Officials said the arrangement would help Boeing compete for foreign clients against European jetmaker Airbus.

Facing re-election, Obama has pointed to a decline in unemployment and touted a recent boost in manufacturing jobs as an indicator of an economy on the mend. Republicans seeking the White House have accused Obama of failing to steer the economy out of a deep recession, setting up the health of the nation’s economy as a pivotal issue in the 2012 election.

The White House unveiled a number of other steps aimed at boosting foreign trade, including a pilot program called Global Credit Express to help small-business exporters apply for up to a one-year loan of up to $500,000.

Obama’s visit to the Boeing plant comes a few months after the National Labor Relations Board dropped a high-profile lawsuit against the company over allegations it built a nonunion plant in South Carolina to retaliate against past union strikes in Washington state. The president did not mention the case, and spokesman Jay Carney said his visit had nothing to do with it. A Boeing spokesman also said there was no connection.