MANOR, Texas - President Obama swooped into the booming Austin area on Thursday to showcase manufacturing growth and technology innovation as he began a series of visits across the country designed to pressure Congress to pass his economic agenda.

Making stops in and around the Texas capital, Obama called anew on lawmakers to act on ideas he laid out in February's State of the Union address to expand the middle class by investing in new jobs and job training. The divided Congress has made it difficult for the president to move forward with his employment agenda.

"I'm an optimistic guy, so I'm just going to keep on talking to members of Congress," he said at Manor New Technology High School. "Every once in a while, I'm going to need your help to lean on your elected representatives and say, 'Hey, let's do something about this.' . . . But where I can, I'm just going to go ahead and take action on my own."

The trip to Texas, which has weathered the recession far better than any other big state, was the first stop on Obama's "Middle Class Jobs & Opportunity Tour," which over the next few weeks will take him to communities that he will spotlight as economic success stories.

His efforts were lifted by last week's jobs report showing that the unemployment rate had fallen to 7.5 percent - a four-year low - after employers added 165,000 positions in April.

"Thanks to the grit and the determination of the American people, we've cleared away the rubble of the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes," Obama said. "So we're poised for progress all across America."

The president ticked through several positive economic indicators, including the healing housing market and falling deficits. But he repeatedly acknowledged, "That's not good enough."

With his momentum stalled on Capitol Hill, his travel seems designed to help jump-start his second-term agenda. There are few signs that Congress will pass his economic proposals; Republican leaders in both chambers ridiculed the jobs tour as a publicity stunt.