The State of America's Cities
An excerpt from the 2016 State of the Cities report focusing on economic development.
Mayors continue to be focused on improving their local economies and encouraging entrepreneurship.
“Our unemployment rate is down by more than a third, and we have created more than 20,000 new jobs,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, touting her record leading the city of Baltimore. “We focused on the small entrepreneurs in our neighborhoods who are at the heart of job creation, as well as the larger development projects and established businesses that support hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs.” More and more cities are making it easier for entrepreneurs to apply for the permits and licenses needed to start or grow a business. “We will be expanding our online offerings for business — where now, for the first time ever, business licenses can be acquired through our city’s website, and soon, the entire building permit process will be available in a single, seamless online system,” said Mayor John Tecklenburg of Charleston, South Carolina.
Mayors are seeing improved revenue and are being judicious about how to spend it.
Many cities are returning to pre-Recession levels of fiscal health. Detailing the economic success his city has felt these last few years, Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James said that this year’s budget continues that momentum and “supports our neighborhoods and our young people. We’ll be able to demolish dangerous buildings and invest more in summer youth employment.” In Covina, California, Mayor Peggy Delach talked about the need for fiscal restraint. “We are continuing to identify ways to reduce our costs and make our organization more efficient and more responsive and ensuring that more of our tax dollars are available to be used for community improvements,” she said.
Mayors are cautiously optimistic about the future and are leading in the development of sustainable communities where people want to live.
Last year was a monumental one for green mayors, like Boston’s Marty Walsh and Atlanta’s Kasim Reed, both of whom traveled to Paris to sign the Compact of Mayors on climate change. In their speeches this year, mayors made the case for sustainable development. “Being green makes great social sense,” said Mayor Rusty Bailey of Riverside, California. “Greener living means more local parkland for running, walking, biking, and playing outside. It means better access to healthy food.”
Mayors are concerned about the uptick in the murder rate even though overall crime rates are historically low.
Many mayors reported an uptick in crime within their cities, and this trend, noticeable across the country, was particularly alarming for homicide. “Many of our homicides are the result of domestic violence. In the past two years, we have made significant changes in the way we deal with these situations. We are handling the calls differently. We are handling the investigations differently. We are learning more and more about which cases are likely to escalate,” said Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City. Research has shown, however, that even though the short-term homicide trend is pointed in the wrong direction, crime overall is still at the lowest point in decades nationally.
Mayors are concerned about the increasing opioid epidemic.
Seventy-eight Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The fact that this epidemic has grown at such an expansive rate in recent years has led NLC to join with the National Association of Counties (NACo) to form the National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic. Policies addressing substance abuse, fueled by an increase in opioid addiction, consumed much of the coverage of health-related topics in this year’s State of the City speeches. “It’s a living and breathing epidemic — like a virus — infecting residents of all walks of life. It’s dashed young people’s dreams of going to college or landing a job. It’s torn families apart. Parents have had to bury their children,” said Binghamton, New York, Mayor Richard David.
Mayors are helping their cities see the value of using technology and data to drive decisions and make their city governments more efficient and effective.
In this year’s speeches, multiple cities committed to becoming smart cities, where classrooms, neighborhoods and businesses leverage data and technology to become better connected and more productive. “We need to focus on new technologies, because the solutions we envision today may be obsolete 10 years from now,” said Mayor Megan Barry of Nashville, Tennessee. Cities are also moving their operations online and into the cloud to increase transparency and efficiency. “Greenwood is the first city in Indiana to use OpenGov, a software platform that is transforming how governments analyze, share and compare financial data,” said Mayor Mark Myers. “It’s a remarkable tool, and I urge all citizens to visit the City’s website and take a look.” In Syracuse, New York, residents can submit and track requests for things like sewer backups, trash removal and pothole filling anytime online using “City Line.”
Read the full report here and check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about economic development.
About the Author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.