In this day and age, being a local leader can feel challenging – we face so many issues that are tough to tackle. But the reality is that there is so much to be hopeful about: our cities are finally coming back to life, we’re using federal funds to transform communities and so much more.
So as I step into my role as president of the National League of Cities, my goal over this next year is to empower local leaders across this nation to partner together to give our residents hope. This year is about building forward-looking opportunities – so that people across all walks of life feel like there are endless possibilities ahead of them.
Listen to our latest CitiesSpeak Podcast episode with Mayor Woodards as she talks about her unexpected journey to public service and why she thinks combining the power
of talented residents with strong partnerships can help create endless possibilities for everyone in communities across the country.
My own journey to public service was an unexpected one – every single step of the way has honestly surprised me. If you had told me as a little Black girl growing up in Tacoma that I would grow up and be mayor of my city, I never would have thought that could be possible for me.
My story is familiar to so many city leaders across this country – so this year, we are going to focus on paying it forward. Now that we have the honor of being in our incredible leadership positions, I feel strongly that we have a responsibility to remove barriers so that everyone in our communities can rise to meet their true destiny.
One of my favorite quotes is from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.” I have learned the truth behind those words over and over again throughout my career. No matter where or how we serve, we have the power to help others see greater possibilities for themselves than they ever could have imagined.
As local leaders, we can identify and create those possibilities by investing in people and building partnerships – and that’s exactly what we’re going to do together this year.
Let’s start with people: at the root of what makes our communities great are the people who choose to call them home. Our cities, towns and villages are brimming with brilliance, talent and creativity, whether it comes through our entrepreneurs, activists, scientists, faith leaders, or artists. Our cities would be nothing without the rich talent, culture and ideas within them.
But while great ideas are important, there is only so much talented people can do on their own. It’s only when our people come together and share their ideas with one another that we can truly foster innovation and build better communities.
The partnerships we build together take all kinds of forms. Community-centered partnerships draw on the innovation of our residents and use the expertise of local businesses and community organizations to help address our shared needs. Public-private partnerships enable our communities to harness our expertise and level up, making our ideas better for more people in more communities. And they all drive the trajectories of our cities toward success.
But building them wouldn’t be possible without our leadership. Fostering successful partnerships is one of our most important jobs as mayors and councilmembers – and it’s a big part of the value we find in the National League of Cities. During my presidency in 2023, we’re going to unleash the power of partnerships together to take on a couple of our toughest problems: our current housing crisis and the workforce challenges we’re all facing.
The Possibility of a Place to Call Home
Let’s face it: we’re in the midst of a housing crisis. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, we have a shortage of more than 7 million affordable homes for our nation’s 10.8 million extremely low-income families. That’s a huge problem – and it will require partnering together across sectors to find solutions.
Over the course of the next year, in partnership with the American Planning Association, NLC is excited to launch the Housing Supply Accelerator for Cities, a national campaign and an accelerator, to align with public and private stakeholders about the challenges of housing supply we currently face. This campaign is about getting to a place where more housing options are available and access to a safe, quality and affordable home is a possibility for all of our residents – and strong local leadership is key to achieving that goal. For more information about what NLC has planned and how you can be part of this important work, visit nlc.org/housing.
The Possibility of a High-Quality Job
Of course, housing stability goes hand-in-hand with a good-paying job – which is why designing possibilities for workforce development will be another focus for my presidential year. The pandemic has brought us to a reality where 87 percent of America’s small businesses are finding it hard to recruit and retain qualified employees. And the same is true for local governments – over the last two years, municipal employment shrunk at a rate 18 times larger than the private sector, and still hasn’t recovered.
Higher education is becoming increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible to so many in our communities. That’s a problem because we know the number of jobs that require a college degree or technical training is only growing. Put simply, there’s a huge mismatch between our education and job training pipelines and the needs of tomorrow’s economy.
This issue affects employers and government leaders – so it’s on all of us to find solutions together. This year, we will partner closely with the Department of Labor to address the challenges of America’s workforce and spotlight how city leaders like us can serve as conveners and leaders to create and fill jobs that meet all the needs of our communities.
Endless Possibilities for America’s Cities, Towns and Villages
This year, we’re going to create endless possibilities – possibilities in which our residents have places to call home, high-quality jobs they’re excited about, and so much more. We’re going to work together to enable our communities to grow and thrive, and allow our residents to dream bigger, imagine a brighter future and then create it for themselves. Improving our cities, towns and villages is what our work is all about – creating endless possibilities for the residents who live in our cities now and the people who will come next.
Right now, we find ourselves in a place of unprecedented opportunity. Through the American Rescue Plan Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we have access to historic federal funds that are helping carve out possibilities for everyone. We have done great work helping cities access and apply for those funds and we’ll continue to do that in 2023, sharing our lessons and successes along the way. Friends, thank you for the opportunity to serve you all as NLC’s president. I am so excited to get to work together.