Addressing the Downtown Rotary about the State of the City is a time-honored Louisville tradition.
The first time I spoke to you, we could almost measure my administration in hours.
Now, my team and I are pleased that you can measure it by a series of accomplishments.
· From the rousing success of our Give a Day program –with more than 107,000 volunteers or acts of compassion last year ….
· To our educational successes – a record percentage of Louisvillians, 42 percent!, hold an associate’s degree or higher …
· To our innovative sustainability advances and regaining all of the jobs lost during the Great Recession – far faster than most American cities.
You can read more about our progress – from violent crime reduction to government cost reduction -- in the annual Progress Report that is at each place setting.
You can also go to our website, louisvilleky.gov, to read specifically about the progress we’re making on goals from our strategic plan – which I unveiled when I spoke with you last year.
But today, I don’t want to talk about the past three years – I want to talk about the next 25. As you know, we recently completed phase 2 of our Vision Louisville Plan, our community process for planning how our city will look, feel and flow in a quarter of a century. We gathered 80,000 ideas about the future of Louisville – from a Portland swimming lake to a transferia, a multi modal transit center. I saw something like this in Hong Kong last year - it’s the way of the future!
Looking at these ideas – and their images – is exciting! It makes you want them today because you know the economic growth and opportunity that comes with them.
But we get there one day at a time.
So let’s look at our future in three contexts:
· the future of cities,
· the future of jobs and economic development
· and Louisville’s competitive place in the future.
First, the future of cities.
Cities like ours are more important than they’ve ever been.
· Globally, 53 percent of all people live in cities. We are a metropolitan world.
· More than 80 percent of Americans live in cities. We are a metropolitan country.
· In fact, we are a metropolitan STATE. Almost 60 percent of Kentuckians live in a city.
Not only are cities culturally and economically important; they are increasingly politically important.
Consider that the Federal Government is in a state of unprecedented gridlock. That’s just a bipartisan fact. Earlier this month, a poll by the Center for Public Affairs found that 70 percent of Americans lack confidence that the Federal Government “can make progress on important problems and issues.”
Bruce Katz, one of Brooking’s leading thinkers, in his book “The Metropolitan Revolution,” argues that it’s now up to cities to meet the challenges that federal and state governments used to lead on, from improving education to growing exports.
Innovative, entrepreneurial cities will meet these challenges and thrive. Other cities will be left behind, with crumbling infrastructure, a stagnating economy and a chronic brain drain.
The choice is clear and obvious; we MUST be innovative and entrepreneurial. We must play to win. That is the only way forward!
So how do we become a more entrepreneurial, innovative city? That’s the critical question that we must consider our future against.
My professional life has been an entrepreneur, innovator, and businessperson first. I just happen to be mayor.
Of course, my team is working every day to support homegrown startups and to lure already successful companies to our community.
But we also must meet a changing dynamic. People no longer follow jobs – jobs follow people.
Let me explain what I mean by that.
It used to be that people would move to big employers wherever they were located – and big employers could use the talent that existed almost anywhere.
But now, more and more, growth industries need more highly-skilled workers – this is true for tech companies that are hiring social media experts or manufacturers looking for industrial maintenance technicians.
So in today’s world, companies can’t locate just anywhere – their workforce is not interchangeable. They want to locate where they can find a pool of skilled workers – and a place with the quality of life to attract and retain them, no matter where they are from. So the jobs follow the people.
Here’s an example. I talk a lot about Oklahoma City because the voters there have done so much to improve the livability of their city in the past couple of decades. They got this message about “jobs following people” a few years back, when United Airlines turned down a best-in-country tax incentive package for a maintenance facility because, United’s executives said, they couldn’t imagine their employees living in Oklahoma City -- not as it existed then. Ouch!
That was tough for them to hear. But they rebooted! They started investing in their waterfront, in their schools and in their neighborhoods. Now people come from all over the world to their rowing center. They have a ballpark, a convention center, new trolleys, a new music hall. Oklahoma City, Nashville, Austin, Indianapolis – these are the cities we are competing against – cities who are making rapid improvements in their community’s quality of place.
Because they know that this is the way of the future. Again, people don’t follow jobs. Jobs follow people. And people are increasingly living where the quality of place is high. People are looking for the entire package – good schools, the arts, reasonable cost of living, a beautiful natural environment, and a modern, diverse built environment.
So where does that leave us?
Given that we are living in a time where metropolitan areas are the cultural, economic and political engines for progress – and given that we live in a time when economic development is people driven, where does Louisville fit in? Where do we fit competitively?
The truth is we are not investing fast enough – not when we compare ourselves to growing cities around the country.
Jim Welch, Brown Forman’s vice chair, spoke at the Downtown Forum recently and discussed how important the vitality of downtown is for their company when they are recruiting talented employees from around the world.
Not many people are going to uproot their family and leave Paris or London or Hong Kong for a job alone – not today, not if they have high-demand skills that give them lots of options.
If they are going to move across the world, they have high expectations for their new home.
Louisville has many assets, but the truth is we have to up our game if we are going to live up to the expectations that all of us have – the expectation that we can and should be one of the great 21st Century cities, one where our kids and grandkids can pursue rewarding careers, live healthy and active lives, and raise their own families in a city of opportunity and progress.
How do we achieve that goal?
First, we have to have a plan. I mentioned the 80,000 ideas we received from Vision Louisville. They were all over the map – literally in that they reached every corner of the community, but also figuratively. We received ideas that ranged from the solid and predictable – like more hike and bike opportunities, and ultra high speed internet – to the surprising and fun like ziplines over the Ohio River.
But the universal theme was that everyone envisioned a great, dynamic 21st Century city that would compete in both quality of life and quantity of opportunities with cities all over the country and all over the world.
Ask Louisvillians what they want and they want a future without limitations – partly because they want their children and grandchildren to stay here, not pursue careers in Atlanta, Chicago, London or Hong Kong. It was inspiring to see Louisvillians plan for their community – a great medium-sized, livable city without limits.
I want to direct you to the monitors to look at some of these ideas.
· People talked about wanting a more local food environment -- see the edible landscaping, the kids fishing, and the livestock!
· People want lots of opportunities for activity and exercise for all ages.
· Sustainable communities.
· And imagine if our development of the waterfront became even more complete with Waterfront Housing?
· What if we made 9th street a place to come-together, rather than an ugly reminder of perceived old community divisions?
These are inspiring to look at. However, the hard reality is that you cannot build a community on vision alone. Sound investments must be made.
· A business does not expect to grow without investing resources into research, design, capital expenditures, and marketing.
· A family does not hold back a child from college, just because college takes an investment of resources.
· Likewise, we cannot refrain from community investments if we expect to compete for jobs and opportunity. We must responsibly think and plan for the long term, not limit ourselves with cowardly short-term thinking and an anti-investment mentality.
Any organization, any business has to grow and change with the times and invest in the future. Look at Churchill Downs – this beautiful facility that we are enjoying today would not be the vital part of our community that it is – if its leaders had not continued to invest and upgrade.
As a community, we have always had to make quality of place investments. Where would we be today, if Louisville had not invested in parks – from Olmsted to the Waterfront to the Parklands? What if we had not invested in the airport and our logistics network?
Those things didn’t just happen – the community made them happen.
Historically, we’ve invested in these types of projects through state or federal grants, gifts from private donors, or bonds.
Those aren’t bad options but none of them are nimble and independent enough, especially in today’s world, to be our only tools.
Look at Waterfront Park! It is a global best practice – and we are grateful – it took nearly 30 years from concept to completion! Our competitor cities are moving much faster than that. To be the best, we cannot just compare ourselves to ourselves, we – and people worldwide – compare us to other great growing cities.
So we need more tools as we chart paths for responsible, citizen driven growth.
This is the reason that LIFT -- Local Investments for Transformation – is my top legislative priority. It is absolutely critical not only for Louisville, but for every city and county in the state.
LIFT is about local control. It’s about letting people vote on specific projects with specific price tags and a pay-as-you-go approach. It’s about trusting local people more than state-level politicians, to make the right investment decision for their community. I don’t know about you, but I say “Let these people decide! The people here in this room. The people represented in these photographs. The people of Louisville!”
And I know that LIFT is a critical tool we need now to address the investment challenges we face and remain competitive.
I know many of you are familiar with LIFT, also known as the local option sales tax, but let me recap:
LIFT gives cities and counties the option of identifying and funding a specific project or groups of projects, with the project specifications and cost identified. The projects are paid for with up to a 1 percent sales tax with that tax sunsetting when the identified funds are raised.
By law, the funds are kept in a specific capital account with clear provisions prohibiting it from use in the general fund.
In Louisville, a one percent sales tax would generate between $100-130 million a year –about the amount Waterfront Park cost. Imagine if voters had the option to make an investment of that quality every single year!
In one year, Louisville could completely pay for the remaining portions of the Louisville Loop, a 100-mile recreational trail around the city, AND fund the construction of new libraries. A proposal would be drafted, and the voters would vote yes or no.
The only reason we can’t do this now? Frankfort won’t let us – our state constitution won’t allow it. But we as citizens can change the constitution. This is about local control of our future.
If the state legislature agrees to put amendment language on a statewide referendum, and if the people approved, we could pay for something like the Louisville Loop in less than a year.
Or we could spend the next 15 or 20 years cobbling it together from various funding sources while our competitive cities out-invest us.
The question becomes do we want to accelerate growth in this community or lope along, and possibly recede, while other cities pass us by? Louisvillians have come up with lots of great plans for our community. All we lack is nimble funding options.
LIFT is the way to turbo-charge our quality of place improvements. It is a way for us to experience a renaissance in our community and maximize the wonderful momentum we now have and grow the jobs of the future.
Fewer and fewer people are questioning this effort. We have a great group of bi-partisan leaders around the state that are LIFT champions.
It makes me shake my head when people say it’s impossible. Are we that pathetic? Do we now take for granted that it would be impossible to pass a measure that, according to polls, has the support of more than 70 percent of Kentuckians and the support of business leaders, civic leaders and citizens of all political stripes?
Look at the support this has received from people like: Bill Stone, Bill Samuels, Mac Brown and Debbie Scopechhio and organizations like GLI and the Kentucky Chamber.
I want to thank these people and groups for their citizenship and leadership. I also want to ask everyone else to join them.
Get off the sidelines and get in the game! Play to win!
Sure, it’s going to be a challenge. But all of you have gotten to where you are because there were moments where you took on challenging situations. You’ve gone into sales calls where the odds were against you, and you have started businesses during recessions… but you showed initiative and always believed you could rise to the occasion.
And that’s what this situation is asking of us… Do the vast majority of people who support LIFT have enough initiative to make their voices heard? Our voices must be heard because to get us this right of local control, 60% of the state House and Senate must agree to place the question of the local option on a statewide referendum. So step one is to get Frankfort to move on this issue. We have the support of the Governor and many elected officials but we need more support!
We are talking about the future of our community. The home for our children and grandchildren.
We have got to get the message to the state legislators that the time is NOW. This can’t wait two years or ten years or twenty years – because other cities are already ahead of us. 37 states already have this!
So, I’m asking you to please call your legislators today. Phone calls are the best way to make your voice heard. At your table, there is a flyer with a 1-800 number. When you call that number, an operator will help you figure out who your legislator is and connect you – so you can leave a message.
You could make this call while you’re putting on your coat or walking to your car. Citizenship is convenient in today’s world! But you must act!
I promise you that if everyone in this room calls Frankfort – and if each of you got 10 more people to call, LIFT will move even faster. We need to push Frankfort toward the future - and your voice as a citizen must be heard!
Every one of you is here today, because you care about our community.
You understand that a vibrant and vital community creates opportunity and security for all of us. Act on your care and commitment!
My administration has a lot more to do but we are off to a good start with three good years. Measured by jobs alone, we can see Louisville’s potential for growth. More than 12,000 jobs were created in the past year and we’ve regained all 42,000 jobs that were lost during the recession. Our economic development and quality of life strategies are strong.
The question before us today is where do we go next? Are we going to be content saying that we climbed our way back to 2007? That things are “good enough”?
Or are we going to turn our momentum into something that will fundamentally change the future of our home?
Henry Ford once said that one of the greatest discoveries a man ever makes, one of his greatest surprises, is when he discovers he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t.
I think a lot of people had given up on the idea that we could even build a bridge anymore. But we proved this year that we can! That’s why I love the picture on the screen right now! Progress finally!
We can build bridges. In fact, I believe the men and women of Louisville can do ANYTHING. Indeed, we must do it! Continue growing your businesses, continue your acts of compassion, and make your voice heard with elected officials. There is no challenge too large that great citizenship cannot solve.
Thank you for allowing me to serve and I look forward to sharing our journey of growth and citizenship over the coming years.