State of the City Address - January 24, 2013

Good Afternoon.

It’s always great to meet with the Rotary Club! I’m inspired by your commitment to honesty, integrity, and service – in business and throughout the community. You proved it again last year with the Promise Scholarship, which guarantees a college education to every Western High School freshman willing to work for it! Thank you!

It's fitting that we're in a new location, because the name “Rotarian” comes from a practice when the Rotary was first forming in Chicago and members “rotated” from one office to another.

So thanks everyone for meeting here in the African American Heritage Center. What a stunning space!

A great thing about being mayor is the power to “proclaim things.” Before I was mayor, I could say something like: “I think Louisville is really compassionate.” Or: “Everyone ought to support U of L today.” And it was “just talk.”

But now: I PROCLAIM Louisville the most compassionate city in the world. Or I PROCLAIM that it’s WEAR RED day. That has some extra weight and it even gets me on ESPN!

So today, I’m going to proclaim the state of our city:

We are poised! We’re primed! Our momentum is strong and we are changing the direction of our city!

The first time I talked to you, two years, ago – the state of our city was concerning. We had strengths, but we also had economic stagnation that was worsened by the national economy – our unemployment rate was about 11%, and I thought we were, as a city, too complacent to win in global competition.
And when I talked to you last year, our budget was grim.

We still have challenges, but two years into my administration we have moved our city in a new direction. Each of you has a Progress Report at your seat. Let me hit the highlights.

  • Our economy is expanding again. We've grown 22,000 jobs in the Louisville region in the past two years and the metro unemployment rate is down to 7.4 percent. A Brookings Institution report says we’re the fourth fastest-growing job generator in the United States.
  • We’re “getting things done and taking care of business” including:
    • breaking ground, with the help of Governors Beshear and Daniels, on the Ohio River Bridges project! After 40 years of talk, we lowered the project cost $1.5B and got out the shovels.
    • moving quickly on the MSD- Louisville Water Company consolidation that will create an agency of the future and save the city and ratepayers $15-25M.
    • We are moving forward on the first of three new regional libraries. When the Southwest Regional Library opens in 2014, it will be a beautiful, powerful addition to southwest Louisville’s landscape, a gathering place and education incubator for children and lifelong learners.
    • All this work is done with a dedicated team of city workers...Metro employees, please stand. Let’s give them a round of applause.
  • The third piece of good news is the significant progress we’ve made on the city’s structural budget deficit. Last year’s $25 million gap is now down to $13-$14 million out of a $500M general fund. That's still a lot of money. But we didn't get into this problem in two years and we can't solve it in two years. (Pensions are much of the remaining problem – having grown from 6 percent at the time of merger to 15 percent of the General Fund now – we’re lobbying Frankfort for reform here!) Other good financial news: We've maintained our strong AAA credit rating in difficult times.
    • The Metro Council has been a strong partner in developing a sound budget. I want to thank them for their good work. Please stand, Council members.
    • Local union leaders are also valued partners. They understand the need to work together to keep the growth of labor costs consistent with revenue growth. Thank you!

All of this – balancing budgets, building bridges and adding libraries – is the city’s daily work. We must also look to the future. My team and I are working hard to be America’s best city government, as we change and improve the direction of Louisville.

This new direction is evident in three key areas:

  • Jobs and Economic Development
  • City government itself
  • Planning for the future.

Consider jobs:

In today’s world we must be innovative and entrepreneurial in everything – including our approach to economic development.

My team and I are focused on attracting higher-paying jobs - jobs that will keep our best and brightest in Louisville.

We’re building a workforce with the technical skills to thrive in the 21st century. We spot training opportunities, and work with our educational partners to capitalize on them. That’s why we developed computer-coding and sales training programs to quickly respond to market needs in the past six months.

Land assembly is critical for job growth – when companies come looking for large tracts of land, the city needs more supply. With help from the state, my team has assembled a large tract of vacant land in west Louisville that the city will soon own and will begin marketing to companies interested in bringing jobs and investment to this neighborhood.

We’re also committed to the power of youth employment. A summer job can be a life-changing experience – especially for teenagers who would otherwise sit idle all summer.

Last year, we set a goal of raising a million dollars in private money to support SummerWorks. Not only did we get jobs for more than 400 young people, we were also able to put them through the Kaufmann Foundation’s entrepreneurial training program. Some of them are here today! Will you stand?

This year, our goal is 800 summer jobs! And I want to ask each of you to look at the information at your table – and make a commitment. Hire someone yourself or – if that’s not appropriate in your workplace – donate $2,500 and WE’LL hire them to clean up abandoned property or help non-profits in town.

There are about 3,000 teenagers living in financially challenging situations in Louisville. If we can hire 800 of them each year through SummerWorks AND get Kentucky Kingdom opened, we’ll transform the summer experience for these young people and reap dividends for decades to come – they’ll be good workers, good bosses, good business owners, good citizens!

So we’re being entrepreneurial in our economic approach while we change the direction of our city.

We’re also changing the direction of government services. I’m a businessman and entrepreneur who just happens to be mayor, and my team and I are bringing business strategies to government.

LouieStat is the best example. Using this data-driven approach to solving government problems, we've reduced unscheduled overtime by about 18 percent, compared to a year ago.

Or consider Worker's Comp. It’s a fact of life that workers get hurt and need to heal. But to drive down Workers’ Comp costs, we developed a “Return to Work” pilot program, offering light-duty to injured Public Works employees when possible. Maybe you can’t lift a garbage can, but you can pick up litter. We have already saved 9,000 “lost” hours and nearly $125,000 in related costs since the program began in August.

After pushing to change three state laws, and doing a lot of homework, we are now more proactive on Vacant and Abandoned Properties – we're aggressively finding ways to get these properties back into the private market, with a goal of reducing vacant and abandoned properties by 40% in 3 years and 67% in 5 years.

We're finding more ways to make government accessible via the Internet. We want to move as many services as possible to the Web. We've unveiled a new mobile app for 311 service requests, online applications to file taxes and get permits, and track crime.

In fact, our website was named the best metro website in the nation!

So, yes, we're changing the direction of the city when it comes to government services.

Finally, we're changing the direction of the city when it comes to approaching the future.

My team and I have developed a strategic plan that we’re launching today!

If you want to join me as a city government zealot, check out the website at louisvilleky.gov. I guarantee you'll be excited about this tool for moving our city forward.

Our plan is built around five broad city objectives:

1) Deliver excellent city services,

2) Deal with the systemic budget issues,

3) Take job creation to the next level,

4) Invest in people and neighborhoods, and

5) Create plans for a vibrant future.

The objectives are broken down to 21 concrete goals. Some goals you've heard about already: 55,000 degrees, 10,000 new trees. All the goals are built for accountability.

Examples include:

  • Facilitate 1500 new or rehabilitated affordable housing units by 2018.
  • Divert 90 percent of waste from landfills within 30 years, and, as a step toward that, increase recycling by 25 percent in 3 years. Our Bloomberg Innovation Delivery Team is a leader here– we started putting larger recycling bins on two routes, and recycling has increased 50 percent on them already.
  • We're going to reduce FBI “Part 1” Offenses – assault, rape, murder, theft and so forth – by 3 percent a year – and become one of the nation’s safest large cities. We’ve already formed the VIPER unit to bring laser-like focus to violent crime reduction.

That's our strategic plan! Check it out!

But we can't just look at the short and mid-range goals. We need to think about where we want to be in 25 years. That's Vision Louisville, the big picture, the long view.

Vision Louisville is a deliberate process to create our future - a great global, sustainable, healthy, digital and growing city . How our city looks, feels and flows is what attracts visitors, new residents and business owners – and makes our city the place to be.

Here are a few issues Vision Louisville explores:

  • How can our strong health and wellness sector transform us into a world leader in aging care and health research?
  • How can the Nulu Renaissance spread to other neighborhoods? How do we make all our neighborhoods more vibrant – from here in Russell to Fairdale to Fern Creek?
  • Tourism is our second largest industry – visitors spend about $1.7 billion a year here. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is bringing global attention and new visitors. How do we build on that?
  • How do we continue the momentum behind the Louisville- Lexington BEAM partnership?

That brings us to: How will we pay for this bright future?

After pension and tax reform, my top legislative priority is getting the General Assembly on board with LIFT– Local Investments for Transformation! We need the General Assembly to start the process to amend the state constitution to allow cities and counties the ability to decide if they want an optional, local sales tax of up to 1 percent to invest in critical capital projects for a specific period of time. Check out the flyer at your seats for more details on LIFT.

In Louisville, a one cent sales tax – a single powerful penny -- would generate $90 million a year, enough to make a Waterfront Park Level investment in our community every year! Think about how quickly we could progress with the power of a penny!

Here’s how it works: A citizen and elected official advisory board would choose capital projects, with specific detailed costs, to put on the ballot after an intensive community input process. Louisville voters would then vote “yes” or “no” at the ballot box, and the tax will end when the project monies are raised.

This is a democracy-driven tool to help us compete with Austin, Oklahoma City, Denver and other places that already have this option and are investing more nimbly and more often than we are. Thirty-seven of the 50 states already allow this option – we need to give our citizens the freedom to decide what we want to invest in.

This is the highest level of democracy – people, not politicians, deciding whether to raise revenue. It’s about freedom to choose how you want to invest in your community, rather than going to Frankfort and begging for money. Remember, Louisville generates $2.4B in taxes but only gets $1.2B back from Frankfort. We simply need more options to compete with other cities that are doing a better job than we are investing in their quality of place.

I hope you can see my team is focused on changing the direction of this city: the way we plan for the future, the way we run government services, and the way we pursue economic development.

People from around the world are talking about Louisville’s momentum:

  • Zagat’s named us one of 8 global “foodie destinations.”
  • Lonely Planet says we’re the number one travel destination for the U.S.
  • We were named the international model city of compassion – and in May we’ll be hosting the Dalai Lama – a testament to our reputation on this front.
  • Business Facilities magazine called the Ford economic development deal – the “deal of the year.”
  • And, of course, the really big news: GQ named us America’s most “Manly city.”

You can’t buy that kind of publicity, but we definitely have worked hard to earn it!

So when you leave here today, here's what I ask you to do:

A concrete step: Hire a student intern this summer or sponsor one for the city.

A virtual Step: Share your vision at visionlouisville.com or give us feedback on the strategic plan website.

A cultural step: Louisville is a city with great momentum, brag about it! Tell everyone you see! We are all in the business of selling our great city!

On Monday, we celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.”

While our city is certainly beyond the first step, we know our staircase will always be under construction. We are peering up, as far as we can see, and none of us can fully imagine what awaits us at the top.

We do know however, that we are on this journey together - one that will never be complete. With each other, we are changing the direction of our city – the trajectory of our city - to compete with any city on the globe and together, build a greater Louisville!

Thank you!