New Report: 75% of Mayors Focus on Economic Development Issues in State of the City Addresses

WASHINGTON—In the aftermath of the tension and unrest seen in cities such as Ferguson and New York last year, cities have been the focus of societal issues surrounding race, equity and opportunity. Today, the National League of Cities (NLC) released the "2015 State of the Cities" report, which found that economic development was the most-covered topic in mayoral "state of the city" speeches given in the first quarter of 2015. In talking about economic development issues, mayors often spoke of equity and workforce development, and highlighted ways that local governments are providing the leadership needed to create more inclusive, equitable communities.

"Issues around race, equity and opportunity have been at the forefront of many Americans' minds in the wake of Ferguson, New York and Baltimore," said National League of Cities President Ralph Becker, mayor, Salt Lake City, Utah. "Mayors are responsive to their communities, and we are seeing calls to expand economic opportunity and combat poverty through a variety of new programs and initiatives. Real change, including increases in the minimum wage and new community policing practices, is happening on the local level and is improving the lives of residents."

Many mayors make a state of the city speech during the first quarter of the year, providing a unique window into contemporary conditions and the future direction of the nation. For this report, NLC examined a sample of 100 speeches in cities categorized by region and population size. The analysis revealed the top 10 issues covered in the addresses:

Top 10 Issues
Percent of Speeches with Significant Coverage
1. Economic development-75%
2. Infrastructure-57%
3. Public Safety-55%
4. Budgets-43%
5. Education-41%
6. Housing-28%
7. Data/technology-21%
8. Environment/energy-16%
9. Demographics-11%
10. Healthcare-9%

While the top-line results are similar to those in 2014, the way mayors spoke about the issues differed. For example, when discussing economic development, mayors were more likely to speak about workforce development and income inequality in 2015 than in 2014.

"The report shows that mayors have a strong role in moving their communities forward, from acting as conveners to providing the political courage to tackle the tough issues," said Brooks Rainwater, director of City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities and an author of the report. "Mayors' willingness to create innovative solutions to the challenges facing cities today-and executing on their vision to build better communities-underscores why so much of the action is in cities."

Coverage of topline issues did not vary significantly by region, but differences in how the issues were addressed revealed regional trends. For example in the infrastructure category, mayors in the West were more likely to talk about bikes and bike lanes, while mayors in the Northeast focused more on trains.

For more information about NLC's City Solutions and Applied Research, click here:

The National League of Cities (NLC) is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. NLC is a resource and advocate for 19,000 cities, towns and villages, representing more than 218 million Americans. 

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