Obama called the 787 Dreamliner "the plane of the future." He noted its heavy use of composite materials makes it "lighter, faster and more fuel efficient than any airplane in its class.
"And it looks cool," the president said.
Obama praised the way company and union leaders worked together to make the 787 a reality, and he said Boeing's focus on quality is a key edge in global competition.
"What's happening here in Everett can happen in other industries," he said. "It can happen in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Raleigh."
Obama was introduced by a Boeing machinist. He also singled out Sharon O'Hara, an executive office administrator for the leaders of the Dreamliner team.
The president called attention to O'Hara's recent battle with cancer and her return to work. But he focused more on an observation she made when the first Dreamliner took wing.
"As Sharon tells the story about watching the first plane lift gently off the runway, just the way it was designed to do, she thought about everything that had gone into making this day possible -- all the challenges, all the setbacks; the thousands of hours of brainpower and manpower and womanpower," Obama said. "And what Sharon says is -- this is a quote -- 'I had goosebumps and tears. We said we would do it and we did.' "
"That's a pretty good motto," Obama said. "You said you would do it, and you did. That's what we do as Americans. That's the spirit we need right now. In this country, we don't give up, even when times are tough."
O'Hara, 58, a 20-year employee, attended the gathering at the invitation of the White House. She'd been told in advance that the president would be quoting her. She remained on the factory floor long after the crowd had gone.
"When he said it I was just overwhelmed," she said. "To have the president of the United States mention your name and then try to find you in the crowd, it was awesome. I don't think I've come off my cloud. It's been awesome."
Obama used his Everett visit to draw attention to the importance of manufacturing and U.S. exports. He also was here to raise some campaign cash.
Obama is the first serving U.S. president to visit Snohomish County in nearly two decades. President Bill Clinton visited Paine Field on Feb. 23, 1993, to meet with Boeing workers.
Air Force One arrived at Paine Field right on schedule, just ahead of 10:45 a.m.
Obama was greeted on the tarmac by Gov. Chris Gregoire, Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
"I'm not a star-struck person, but that was pretty awesome," Stephanson said later. "I was so proud and pleased he mentioned Everett so much in his speech. It was terrific. It was a much bigger event than I had anticipated."
Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon was not among the Obama greeting party. Instead, he was waiting with the crowd in the factory.
"This is a great day. The president is in Snohomish County to talk about the manufacturing jobs he wants to create, and he's using this place as a showcase. Yes, this is a great day," Reardon said.
Obama walked through a 787 with Boeing's top brass, Jim McNerney and Jim Albaugh, and he posed for photographs with factory workers.
As he walked through the plane, the president asked workers their names and how long they'd been at Boeing. He joked with employees, but the conversation was too low to be heard by accompanying journalists.
The president seemed fascinated by a feature that allows passengers to dim the 787's windows with the press of a button.
"This is cool," Obama said. "Everybody, pay attention. Look at that. The thing goes dark on its own. Pretty spiffy."
Workers were excited about the visit.
"It's been very exciting," said Pete Cantero, who leads a shift in the factory. He said Boeing employees were "absolutely pumped up."
As word spread that Obama was about to enter the factory, people in the crowd began standing on tiptoes hoping to catch sight. Earlier, Bob Drewel recalled Clinton's visit. At the time, Drewel was Snohomish County executive.
It was "a knee-knocking event," Drewel said. He was among those in 1993 who greeted Clinton and shook his hand.
Many of those gathered in the factory before Obama's arrival took a few moments to snap photographs of themselves and loved ones in front of backdrop of Boeing planes and a giant U.S. flag.
The airport at Paine Field is run by the county. Air Force One landed at south ramp A, not far from Boeing's flight line. Nearby were a veritable United Nations of jets headed for airlines around the globe: Germany, Morocco, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan.
A ceiling of silver clouds allowed just enough of a clearing to the east to reveal the peaks of the Cascade Range. Closer in, black-clad anti-sniper teams were visible on a berm not far from the tarmac.
Everett police were out in force.
Police Chief Kathy Atwood moved among her officers, checking in and making certain that they had water, she said.
"My guys had to be here at 4:30 this morning, so I figured I should be here at 4:30 this morning, too," Atwood said.
Obama used the Boeing visit to announce a number of new steps to promote American manufacturing, including programs to expand access to credit for small business exporters and simplify creating foreign trade zones.
His visit to Everett came at a time when business at Boeing is booming. The company added thousands of jobs last year and has plans to increase aircraft production in Everett and Renton.
Obama's visit was part of a three-day political trip that started Wednesday in Milwaukee, Wis. The trip also includes fundraisers for Obama's re-election campaign.
After his speech, Obama departed by helicopter for the Eastside, where he attended two campaign events, including a $17,900-per-person brunch hosted by Susan and Jeff Brotman, a co-founder of Costco Wholesale Corp., and a $1,000-per-person event at the Bellevue Westin Hotel.
After the campaign events, Obama's motorcade moved onto I-405, prompting a brief closure right at rush hour. Judging from angry Twitter posts, it was an unpopular move on a rainy afternoon, even if it was the president causing early Presidents Day weekend traffic.
He soon reached his helicopter, however, and was flown back to Paine Field.
Air Force One was wheels up just after 6 p.m., carrying Obama off to Washington, D.C.
Jerry Cornfield, Michelle Dunlop, Noah Haglund, Rikki King, Winonna Saari and Debra Smith contributed to this story.
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