WASHINGTON -- Entrepreneurs are dreamers and the government's role is to help make those dreams come true, President Bush told an audience on Thursday at the Small Business Administration's annual conference.

Touching on issues including tax relief, health-care and tort reform, immigration, and globalization, Bush praised small business, calling entrepreneurs risk-takers who provide the "steam and strength" of the U.S. economy. The president's speech, to roughly 500 business owners gathered at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, came on the closing day of National Small Business Week.

"This economy is going well and the small-business owner is leading the way," the president said. "It's a great time to be a small-business owner in America."

Bush cited his administration's tax cuts as a major contributing factor, and repeated his call for Congress to make his tax-relief measures permanent in 2009.

Chief among these was the estate tax, which the president said unfairly taxes business owners -- even after they're dead.

More money in the pockets of small-business owners allows them to expand by investing in new facilities and putting others to work, he said.

Bush credited small business with creating two out of every three new jobs in recent years.

Yet, with immigration reform stalled in Congress and massive protests spilling out into streets nationwide in recent weeks, the president also acknowledged those new jobs were not all going to U.S. citizens.

Calling immigration reform a "highly emotional issue," he pressed the need for a temporary-worker program to help "fill the jobs Americans will not do," without creating a fast-track to full citizenship.

The president also stressed the importance of focusing primary and high school education on math and sciences, what he called "skills to fulfill the jobs of the 21st century."

Later, Eric Hoover, an industrial equipment manufacturer from Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania, who was named the SBA's small-business person of the year for 2006, spoke of eschewing college to become a journeyman machinist in the late 1970s.

Just last week, Hoover said, the company he founded some 25 years ago hired its 107th employee within days of launching a charitable foundation.

"And this morning I introduced the president of the United States," Hoover told the crowd. "Only in America."