Romney spoke on the plant floor at Charlotte Pipe and Foundry and attacked President Obama's economic policy - saying if he was president, he'd do better.
"We're going to keep America the hope of the earth," he said.
As Romney came to North Carolina, President Barack Obama travelled to Nevada to promote policies to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.
Both sides want to move on from the same-sex marriage debate which has raged nationwide since North Carolina's vote Tuesday to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex unions.
President Obama called the vote disappointing, and said he supports allowing same-sex couples to marry. Romney said he does not.
Obama's unexpected embrace of gay marriage has continued to overwhelm the presidential campaign as liberals and conservatives debated the political merits of his endorsement of an issue over which a president has little practical impact.
For Romney, the discussion of gay rights turned personal when The Washington Post published a story recounting how he and several schoolmates held down classmate John Lauber and cut off his bleached blond hair after seeking him out in his dorm room at their boarding school in the wealthy Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
"I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school and some may have gone too far. And for that I apologize," Romney told Fox News.
Romney said he didn't remember the Lauber incident, but also didn't dispute that it happened. He stressed that he didn't know either student was gay and moved quickly to counter any suggestion he had targeted students because they were.
In North Carolina Friday, Romney did not bring up the gay marriage issue. Instead, he tried to capitalize on new poll numbers that show a majority of likely voters think he'd do a better job handling the economy than his opponent.
"Right now, we're finding people across the country who are experiencing some hard times, Romney told the crowd at Charlotte Pipe and Foundry. "I think one of the reasons is because we have a president who's installed some of the old liberal policies from the past. And they didn't work then, and they sure as heck are not working now and they'll not work in the future."