Mayor Fischer: State of the City remains strong
With a focus on our youth, he urges deeper investment to secure a bright and hopeful future for all
Delivering his 10th annual State of the City address from the new Republic Bank Foundation YMCA, Mayor Greg Fischer today reflected on the city’s economic growth and achievements, as well as the systemic challenges facing our city, state and nation, and the steps Louisville must take to realize its full potential.
In a speech infused with images of young people, Mayor Fischer, a new grandfather himself, began by asking, “What steps do we take today to ensure a bright path tomorrow for generations to come?”
The current state of the city overall is strong, he said, with 83,000 new jobs, 3,000 new businesses and $15 billion in capital investment just since 2014, including nearly $1 billion in west Louisville.
The city is seeing “a renaissance that’s reinvigorated our city and remade our skyline,” he said, outlining several developments completed in 2019, including the restored Colonial Gardens near Iroquois Park, Logan Street Market, Old Forester’s Paristown Hall, the new Northeast Regional Library, “and of course, this beautiful YMCA where we gather today.”
“And last month,” he continued, “we launched the region’s first bus rapid transit line. It’s part of the New Dixie Highway, with a key stop right here at 18th and Broadway.”
The Mayor also touted projects under way, including the new Lynn Family soccer stadium, which will host two pro soccer teams – two-time league champion Louisville City FC, and the new National Women’s Soccer League team that will bring Olympic and World Cup champions into the city.
“All of this progress is making our city even more attractive to businesses, investors and young professionals – helping us be named a top 15 city for millennial growth,” he said. “That’s huge!”
He continued, “Our city’s accomplishments have been repeatedly validated by third parties, with awards, special recognitions, and tens of millions of dollars in competitive grants from local and national foundations … and federal agencies like HUD, Health and Human Services and more.”
The Mayor credited local businesses and nonprofits as partners in the city’s success, including the creation of Evolve502, Louisville’s system of lifelong learning that’s designed to help remove barriers that keep children from achieving in school. Evolve502 is working with private donors, area colleges and universities to launch a scholarship fund giving JCPS graduates the opportunity to earn a two-year college degree or skills certificate tuition-free.
“Over the past two years, we’ve raised millions for this effort, including a $5 million challenge grant from the CE & S Foundation,” the Mayor said, “and we’re working now to raise millions more.”
The Mayor discussed his goal of increasing the city’s tech talent pipeline by 500 percent and opportunities for growth in several business sectors, including wellness and aging care.
And he praised the work of the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council, representing companies with collective annual revenue of over $66 billion.
“Today,” he said, “they will announce creation of a Center for Corporate Innovation and the launch of the Chairman’s Circle. This is an exciting executive-in-residence program where successful CEOs and founders will champion and mentor healthcare and tech entrepreneurs.”
Partnerships like that are key to the city’s future success, the Mayor said, noting that there is more to do, including tackling large, often systemic challenges, such affordable housing, public health, paving, sidewalks, climate change, and engaging young people who are disconnected from work or school.
“In Louisville, even with our large, $78 billion economy, we aren’t adequately addressing our three most serious challenges: equity, so everyone can feel connected to a bright and hopeful future; skill development, to create a thriving workforce; and our built environment – fixing and improving our aging sewer and flood protection systems, along with miles of roads, bridges, sidewalks and parks.”
The Mayor added that our ability to address these challenges – and to realize our city’s potential – is hamstrung in part by factors outside our control, including city government’s mandate to fund state pension obligations.
The increasing pension debt forced “painful cuts” in the most recent budget, including eliminating nearly 300 jobs, making reductions in public safety, moving Youth Detention Services to state control, as well as closing pools, libraries and a Neighborhood Place.
“Absent new ongoing funding, our long-term budget challenges will continue,” the Mayor said, vowing to continue working with Metro Council and Frankfort to invest in our community and to build the “the city our people want and deserve.”
“There are multiple options,” he said, “like a restaurant tax, which is allowed in some Kentucky cities but not ours. This could fully fund our remaining pension obligation. One option locally is to take up the insurance premium tax. Or the state could implement a road tax, which would help address roadways and bridges in dire need of repair and upgrading.
“Or maybe Frankfort agrees to grant Kentucky cities – and Kentuckians—a greater ability to raise our own revenue, fund our own capital projects,” he continued. “The priority is achieving results.”
“Our residents want us to restore the cuts that were made to balance the budget, especially those in public safety,” he said. “It’s important that we recognize the incredible, complicated and often dangerous challenges our public safety professional face every day.”
It’s just as important, he said, “that we invest in programs that engage and connect young people to opportunities, especially those who are not in school or working.”
Mayor Fischer said he would be working with the Metro Council to reallocate some of the money previously dedicated to Youth Detention Services to invest more in youth development. “Let’s interrupt the cycle of violence before it begins,” he said.
The State of the City address is traditionally delivered to the Downtown Rotary Club at the start of the new year, and during his tenure, Mayor Fischer has moved the event to various locations in the city. This year’s site was chosen to celebrate the increasing investment taking place in west Louisville.
As is his tradition, the Mayor closed his remarks by encouraging those gathered to support the city’s SummerWorks youth jobs program. “Remember your first summer job? Your first boss or mentor, who taught you how to do a job, how to be a professional? Remember how that cash that you earned felt in your pocket?” he asked. “That’s what SummerWorks offers, often for kids whose families lack the connections to open doors for their children. We have to open those doors for them.”