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‘Economic opportunity in a city that works’

Editor’s note: Here are excerpts from the annual State of the City Address, delivered Wednesday by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak at the MacPhail Center for Music.

We have come together today in Minneapolis’ newest great cultural landmark: the MacPhail Center for Music. This extraordinary building, designed by Minneapolis architect James Dayton, joins the Walker, Institute of Arts, Guthrie Theater, Children’s Theater, Ritz Theater, Central Library and new community libraries around the city in the greatest buildup of new cultural facilities in the history of Minneapolis.

We also come together at MacPhail because it’s at the center of a remarkable renaissance on the Minneapolis riverfront. Many of us remember the days, not long ago, when this part of town was a forgotten and underused railroad yard. Today, land here is worth 13 times what it was in 1994. Over this time, more than 1,500 jobs have been created and 1,000 housing units have been built. Now we see great visions for Washington Boulevard, a transit hub connecting the Hiawatha Light Rail Line with the new Central Corridor to the university and St. Paul, and expansions of the riverfront renaissance upriver into north and northeast Minneapolis.

Even more important, today we come together at this place, on the downtown riverfront, because it is where our city began. Minneapolis celebrates its sesquicentennial this year: our 150th birthday, which we will celebrate with a series of events during July’s Aquatennial Festival.


This story of our past provides a useful guide to our future. We didn’t get here by a single act, or by giving breaks to a few lucky people or companies. We got here with a long-term, sustained commitment to innovation, training a diverse workforce, and remaining connected to our region and global economy. That’s how we got here and that’s how we’re going to move forward.

I disagree with the economic philosophy used too often in both Washington and St. Paul. You don’t build a recession-resistant economy that creates lasting prosperity with a one-time rebate check, or tax cuts for only the very wealthy. The sad state of the economy today is living proof that a tax cut to the wealthy without investments in people has been a failure.

Minneapolis has shown that you build common ground for a recession-resistant economy by investing in people and investing in an environment where opportunity and innovation is fostered. You build common ground for a recession-resistant economy when you make sustained, long-term investments, not just quick fixes. When quality government invests in quality people, you get quality results. When you don’t invest, there are consequences.

Minneapolis will weather this period of economic uncertainty. Our economy has a sound foundation and our city government has a sound economic strategy:

• We are the most literate city and a leading center of the knowledge and creative economy.
• No other city in America has a higher percentage of people between the ages of 25 and 34, which makes our workforce perfectly situated for creative and knowledge based businesses.
• Only one other region in America has more corporate headquarters per capita.
• Average wages in Minneapolis are up 3 percent from a year ago.
• Downtown office vacancy is down to 14 percent, one percent better than last year.
• We have the fifth highest income of the world’s metropolitan areas.
• Forbes named us America’s most affordable place to live.
• Marketwatch named this metro area America’s best place for business.
• Our region is America’s 12th largest exporter.

I believe that Minneapolis has in place a strategic, focused plan that is building economic opportunity in a city that works and that’s what I intend to address today. The role of government is to provide the common ground where all people and businesses can prosper. Our ability to build and maintain a strong economy requires the effort of every single city department working together with a unified vision that says our economic plan is focused in two key areas: investing in people, our number one asset, and investing in the common ground, where we all prosper.

Investing in people

Our people-focused strategy targets two areas of greatest need: underemployment and future employment. In 2004, we launched an effort to close the unemployment gap by providing more training to potential employees and placing more hard to employ people into good-paying jobs. Since then, the city of Minneapolis has invested nearly $7 million in our Close the Gap initiative, placing 14,000 hard to employ city residents into unsubsidized private sector jobs in addition to the 3,300 subsidized city jobs for previously unemployed residents. This is part of the reason that, for the first time since the 1980s, Minneapolis has seen job growth for three straight years, and these are good jobs.

The centerpiece of our employment strategy is in health care — Minneapolis’ most important industry. More than 12 percent of the jobs in Minneapolis are in health care and it’s the fastest growing part of the Minneapolis economy, adding more than 2,300 jobs last year alone.  This is a growth of nearly 5 ½ percent, and a larger growth rate than the metro area or state as a whole. To help us deepen Minneapolis’ role in health care, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities opened an office in our city’s Department of Community Planning and Economic Development to launch an initiative called HealthForce. Its purpose is to work with health-care organizations to determine where they will need employees, and then fill the job pipeline with students from schools like the Roosevelt High School Health Careers Magnet and Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

Our work isn’t just about helping people in need; it’s about making sure our economy has the educated workers it needs in the future. Major demographic shifts are occurring in this state and country that threaten our economic prosperity. Consider this: The number of high-school graduates in Minnesota will decrease 10 percent over the next 10 years, and our fastest-growing populations have the lowest high-school graduation rates and college participation rates. This all adds up to two simple facts: 1) We will not be producing enough graduates to replace retirees at a time when we need more educated workers, not less; and 2) Too many youth are unprepared and unsupported as they enter the world.

Minneapolis students speak more than 100 languages, come from other countries or are used to people who do. They cross cultural barriers every day and, if we do this right, the students in Minneapolis schools could be our state’s greatest asset to compete in the global economy. That’s why we created the Minneapolis Promise.

• Part 1 is Achieve Minneapolis College and Career Centers, now in every Minneapolis High School. In just three years 2,700 students have used these centers to learn about college and careers.
• Part 2 is the STEP-UP summer jobs program, which gives students high quality summer jobs at some of Minneapolis’ best companies and institutions.
• Part 3 is Free College Tuition.  This includes The Power of You at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, and the University of Minnesota’s Founders Free Tuition Program.

Taken together, these three parts of the Minneapolis Promise tell our young people: If you go to school, if you work hard, if you develop a life plan, and if you graduate, we will support you.

With the Minneapolis Promise, we are doing what we can to galvanize this community to surround our youth and prepare them for their future. But at the center of our circle of support lies a school system with great potential, and great need. I have not always been confident that Minneapolis schools were headed in the right direction, but I am today. We have a superintendent, a staff and a school board who have a visionary plan for school reform and they have proven they have the guts to make it happen.

The next phase of Minneapolis School Reform is to redesign our high schools. The goal of this effort is to make sure every Minneapolis High School has Advanced Placement, College in the Schools and International Baccalaureate courses; career and technical education; expanded safety and security programs; and increased professional development.

Investing in the common ground

All of these actions I’ve discussed are critical because economic opportunity in a city that works begins and ends with people.  But we also need to build the common ground where innovative people can come together and where all people can move freely and safely. This means:

1. Building the public realm to support innovation
2. Supporting small business along commercial corridors
3. Expanding transportation alternatives
4. Implementing Wireless Minneapolis
5. Making Minneapolis a safe place to call home

Building the public realm
A new report by the Brookings Institution says that cities use only 12 percent of the nation’s land, but produce 75 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, 76 percent of the knowledge jobs, and 78 percent of patents. What this means is that when you bring people together — physically together — they can exchange ideas, grow companies and produce more. We see this every day in downtown Minneapolis, where 165,000 people from the region’s most significant companies come together to make their experience more livable.  We need to support this by passing a downtown improvement district this year.

Minneapolis proves Brookings right every day, especially in our largest industry, medical and life sciences. This is why we have invested so heavily in the creation of the Minneapolis Lifesciences Corridor along Chicago Avenue. Each decision by one institution to invest led another to invest as well.

It isn’t enough to have the Lifesciences Corridor be the greatest concentration of health care professionals in the Upper Midwest. We need a public realm with physical gathering places where researchers can come together, where interaction leads to innovation. That streetscape plan, and Children’s Hospital’s decision to focus its expansion around Chicago Avenue, can create a real town square for the Lifesciences Corridor. This space, and the Global Marketplace just up the street, are gathering places where talented Lifesciences professionals meet, exchange ideas and help keep Minneapolis at the forefront of these rapidly evolving industries.

Most of the investment I just talked about is happening because Minneapolis is one of the country’s leading lifescience centers. The more momentum we have, the more we will create. Bringing together lifescience businesses and lifescience researchers is why we are redeveloping the public realm around the University of Minnesota. The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and the university want the industrial area next to the university to become University Research Park.  The Center for Translational Research and University Enterprise Laboratories are already located here, helping the brainpower of the university turn research into jobs and businesses.  If we do this right and make sure there is common ground for researchers to interact, University Research Park can create the jobs of the future.

Support small businesses along commercial corridors
Research will continue to power our most important industries but small business will continue to rejuvenate our commercial corridors. That’s the thinking behind the Great Streets Neighborhood Business District program, which focuses our investment to help small business on corridors like Lake, Franklin, 38th Street, Central, Lowry and West Broadway. Our success on Franklin Avenue and Lake Street demonstrates that a middle class will grow from a transformed commercial corridor.  That’s what we now aim to accomplish on West Broadway, Central, and other critical corridors by providing $2 million this year for the Great Streets program. 

Expanding transportation alternatives

We are ready to take the next great step forward for Minneapolis transportation:  modern streetcars on high frequency transit corridors. As part of the Streetcar Feasibility Study, we are developing design standards for streetcar-ready streets so that as sections of these streets are rebuilt, they are rebuilt to a high standard of transit amenities:  a streetcar standard. We are determined to build public private partnerships to build our first streetcar line.

And today we can be proud of our legislative leaders. Choosing leadership over partisanship, the Legislature stood strong for a statewide transportation solution that will strengthen our economy and grow needed jobs in our state.  We applaud their leadership, especially Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Senator Scott Dibble and Representative Frank Hornstein. Now we need the Legislature to fully fund the Urban Partnership Agreement and make Central Corridor a reality.

Implementing Wireless Minneapolis
In just a few weeks, Minneapolis will be one of the first and only cities in the country to design and implement a prototype high-speed, wireless internet network.  Becoming the first American city to go wireless helps our police officers, firefighters, housing inspectors and scores of other city staff work more effectively and efficiently.  In the process, we found a better way to bridge the digital divide in our city and help more people access their city government and we found a new and better way to respond to emergency disasters that is being studied around the world. 

With such as gigantic undertaking, there are always hiccups and hang ups along the way – some anticipated and some not. But I pledge that we will finish the job and remind everyone that this ground-breaking effort didn’t cost the city a single additional dollar to provide much more benefit to our city workers, our residents and our businesses. We are proud to have already been awarded the Wireless Internet Institute’s international Digital Cities Best Practices Award and expect much more deserved recognition for this Herculean effort.

A safe place to call home

No other part of our common ground is more important to our economic growth than public safety. Making Minneapolis a safe place to call home has been our highest priority and will continue to be. Our budget this year funds 18 more sworn officers and the civilian support that they need to be more effective. With these new officers, we will have 880 budgeted sworn officers, more any year since 2002.

We’ve also put more eyes in our neighborhoods with an extensive web of security cameras in north and south Minneapolis and downtown; we’ve prosecuted more criminals by putting city attorneys in police precincts; and we’ve cracked down on repeat offenders and problem properties with targeted, proactive, smart policing strategies.

The results of our efforts are clear: In 2007, violent crime was down 13 percent citywide compared to 2006. The number of homicides was down 21 percent from last year. The number of robberies was down 18 percent, aggravated assaults were down 10 percent, and juvenile crime was down 15 percent. Violent crime fell in every Minneapolis police precinct, down 16 percent in north Minneapolis alone. So far this year, violent crime is 5 percent lower than 2007, aggravated assaults are 21 percent lower, property crimes are 42 percent lower and burglaries are 29 percent lower than at this point last year.  We are making progress but we have a long way to go.

We’ve met tough challenges with tough enforcement, but enforcement alone isn’t enough. We need to attack the root causes of crime. That’s why we launched our Blueprint for Action to Prevent Youth Violence with 32 action items intended to foster a community that helps our young people develop the skills and values they need to forge a positive path.

In closing, let’s honestly acknowledge that we face serious economic challenges ahead.  We aren’t certain what will happen and every factor is not in our control. But let’s also remember that this isn’t the first challenge or the hardest challenge Minneapolis has faced in the past year. When the bridge collapsed last August, every arm of city government had to move decisively. Split-second decisions were made and each had serious consequences. But we could only make those urgent decisions because they were based on years of investment, planning and strategy.

We need to remember this lesson from that disaster as we take on these impending economic challenges. Then people are unemployed or worried about losing their jobs, they need to know that their government will act, and act decisively. We will. But in Minneapolis our citizens can also know that our immediate response to the economic challenges grows out of years of work.

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