Mayor Fischer's 2020 State of the City remarks

February 6, 2020

On Feb. 6, 2020, Mayor Greg Fischer delivered the annual State of the City address at the Republic Bank Foundation YMCA:

 

Thank you.

I wanted to deliver my 10th State of the City address here, because this beautiful building symbolizes the evolution of our city, our country and our world.  

The first YMCA of Louisville opened in 1853.

The President was Franklin Pierce. 

Our mayor was James Speed. 

And our population was about 43,000.

Look at these young Louisvillians from that time.

We now know the major events that would shape their lives: The Civil War, Emancipation, Jim Crow, the industrial revolution, women’s suffrage, World Wars, the Depression, the Flood of 1937, and the inventions of the lightbulb, the automobile, the airplane, radio, and telephone.

But back then, their futures were unwritten, unknown, unpredictable.

They were just Louisville kids.

Like these.

We don’t know what major events will impact the lives of today’s Louisville kids.

And one thing I think about is: How will changes now in our city impact our children and grandchildren?

My team and I have been focused on that question since Day One, and it’s really hit home for me even more lately, because there’s a new sweetheart in my family.

Penny!

And I’m showing you her picture because – well, that’s what new grandparents do.

And because, like all children –

her future is unwritten, unknown and unpredictable.

I believe in learning from the past, living in the present and preparing for the future.

And, that as a community, we must do everything we can to help prepare our children, our grandchildren – our city as a whole – for a future where the pace of change will be faster than ever.

So: What steps do we take today to ensure a brighter path tomorrow for generations to come?

First, let’s look at how far we’ve come. Today, the state of our city is strong.

When I took office at the end of the Great Recession, we laid out a vision for a city guided by our core values of lifelong learning, health and compassion.  

A city government that would create opportunities, tackle inequities and embrace data, transparency and innovation.

Because while government can’t solve every problem, efficient and effective government can help create the conditions for success.

And we’ve seen it!  A renaissance that’s reinvigorated our city and remade our skyline:

We’ve attracted $15B in capital investment since 2014. That includes:

  • Untangling Spaghetti Junction.
  • Building the Abraham Lincoln and Lewis and Clark Bridges.
  • We renovated KICC downtown.
  • And we’re welcoming 16 million tourists a year, which is why we’ve got two dozen hotels recently built or planned.
  • We established Bourbonism – going from zero distillery experiences in our city to nearly a dozen – and earned national/international awards and accolades for our local food and beverage scene.

We’ve built on our national reputation as a city of festivals— art, food, beer, theater, goat races and of course, music – including Forecastle and more recently,

  • Trifesta, three back-to-back weekends of concerts.
  • We revitalized Colonial Gardens in south Louisville.
  • Plus, there’s Paristown, Logan Street Market, Botanica.
  • Later this year, the Norton Sports Health Athletics & Learning Complex will open in Russell.
  • In April, the Lynn Family soccer stadium will open.  And by next year it will host two pro teams – two-time league champion LouCity FC and our new National Women’s Soccer League team, which will bring Olympic and World Cup champions into our city.
  • And we now have three state-of-the-art regional libraries to serve the people of Louisville — Southwest, South Central and Northeast.

Let’s take a look.

And… last month, we launched the region’s first bus rapid transit line on the New Dixie Highway, with a key stop right here at 18th and Broadway.

I want to give a special shout-out to the folks who live, work and drive along Dixie.

They’ve endured construction for more than two years as we worked to create a safer, more modern roadway. 

Thank you!

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.

That’s huge! 

And to build on that success, we have to keep developing our reputation as a compassionate, globally-minded and proudly diverse city, a city that is proud to welcome good, hard-working people from all over the world.

These achievements I’ve just listed – they required years of hard work from people in the private sector, community partners, and city state and federal government. And, they’re just the most visible signs of progress. We also:

Added 83,000 new jobs and 3,000 businesses.
Saw 8,500 Louisvillians lift themselves out of poverty and more than 12,000 families join the middle class.
We’ve invested $45M in affordable housing.

We established a global reputation as a city of compassion. In partnership with Metro United Way, our Give A Day week of service last year again broke our own record, with 235,000 volunteers and acts of compassion.

Our Department of Public Health and Wellness is a national leader in dealing with challenges like Hepatitis A.

And while we continue to fight the evils of addiction, overdose deaths in Louisville fell 21 percent last year, the largest decrease of any county in the state.

Our Healthy Start program has been a huge success, helping expectant and new parents in targeted low-income neighborhoods care for their babies and themselves. 

It’s all part of our effort to become a healthier city. And soon, we will build on that by launching Healthy Louisville 2025, our community-wide plan to improve Louisvillians’ health over the next five years.

Our 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, including

  • JP Morgan Chase,
  • Robert Wood Johnson,
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies,
  • Rockefeller,
  • Humana,
  • James Graham Brown,
  • Gheens,
  • and the Community Foundation of Louisville

Along with federal agencies like HUD, Health and Human Services and more.

We’ve been identified as one of America’s next breakout cities.

And, I’m proud to say we’ve been recognized by What Works Cities as one of only 4 cities in America to earn gold certification, for our use of innovation and data to create one of the most efficient and effective city governments in the country.

This is what we have achieved together, but there’s more to do.

And my team and I feel a sense of urgency because we have a limited time – 1,059 days – to get it done. And we have a lot to do.

Think about some of the systemic challenges we’ve been unable to adequately address: affordable housing, public health, paving, sidewalks, climate change, engaging young people who are disconnected from school or work.  

Our nation has outdated education, welfare, health care and taxation systems inadequate to the task of building communities ready to compete in the 21st century.

And, we have a national economy that’s producing a massive concentration of wealth at the highest income levels, while everyone else is left further and further behind.

The middle class is treading water. Adjusted for inflation, median household income has basically stayed flat for 20 years, while health care, housing, education and other costs have increased dramatically. 

Meanwhile, low-income folks are working two to three jobs , and still falling further behind.  

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 aging sewer and flood protection systems, along with miles of roads, bridges, sidewalks and parks.

These challenges – typically addressed by public funding – hold us back from being the city we want to be.

That’s due largely to factors outside our control – including our state pension obligation.

That pension obligation, on top of inflation, means that our expenses will exceed our revenues over the next three years.

When I took office, pensions made up 7 percent of our budget. When I leave office in 2023, pensions will claim 21 percent of our budget.  

People say government should be run like a business. Well, any business that saw an expense increase of 14 percent would raise prices to help offset those costs. 

Instead, this pension obligation forced us to make painful cuts, 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.

Let me be really clear about this: Absent new ongoing funding, our long-term budget challenges will continue.

Our residents want us to restore the cuts that were made to balance the budget, especially those in public safety.

And it’s important that we recognize the incredible, complicated and often dangerous challenges our public safety professionals face every day.

It’s just as important that we invest in programs that engage and connect young people to opportunities, especially those who are not in school or working.

I will be working with the Metro Council to reallocate some of money previously dedicated to YDS so we can invest more in youth development.

Let’s interrupt the cycle of violence before it begins.

Improving public safety also requires that we bolster trust and legitimacy between police and the communities they serve.

Part of this journey includes addressing the painful history of racism and its continuing impacts on our African American brothers and sisters in so many areas, including incarceration, education, employment and health care. 

That’s why in 2019, we launched the Synergy Project.

The idea is simple: Create a safe space where police and residents can come together, respectfully address their differences, find similarities, and then work together on public safety solutions based on mutual respect.

Synergy is part of our Lean Into Louisville initiative, which, in its first year, has organized conversations, activities and art exhibits exploring and confronting the history and legacy of all forms of discrimination and inequality in our city. We’re doing this in part…

  • to counter the rise in hate speech and hate crimes we’re seeing in our country, which increased 17 percent from 2016 to 2017;
  • to counter the 37 percent spike nationally in crimes targeting Jews and Jewish institutions;
  • to counter the fact that Muslims are targeted in nearly one in five religiously motivated hate crimes;
  • And to counter the 19 percent of all hate crimes that target members of our LGBTQ community. 

We cannot stand by while all this happens, nor hide from the difficult chapters of our past. 

We must follow the courage and compassion of Louisville icons like Justice Louis Brandeis, Anne Braden, Thomas Merton and Muhammad Ali, as well as organizations like NAACP and the Rotary Club itself, which is dedicated to “selfless humanitarian and civic service.”

One of my priorities has been to help revitalize the proud historic neighborhoods of west Louisville.

The people who live here deserve better treatment than they’ve historically received.

That’s why the city has been partnering with businesses, non-profits – like the YMCA – and people and organizations from west Louisville to attract nearly a billion dollars of investment west of 9th Street.

That includes this beautiful building, of course.

  • The Norton Sports Health Athletics and Learning Complex, which I mentioned.
  • The revitalization of Beecher Terrace.
  • The art, culture and business renaissance happening in Portland, including the Heine Brothers headquarters, and Interapt with its technology training program.
  • There’s OneWest’s investment in the building just across the street.
  • And The Village @ West Jefferson, a retail and office building development at 12th and Jefferson that had its groundbreaking just last week.

I’d like to recognize a few of the leaders helping to create the transformation we’re seeing in west Louisville:

  • Sadiqa Reynolds, President of the Urban League
  • OneWest President and CEO Evon Smith
  • Mike Mays, President of Heine Brothers
  • Interapt Founder and CEO Ankur Gopal
  • And the President and CEO of MOLO Village, Rev. Dr. Jamesetta Ferguson!

Thank you all!

Their projects are fantastic examples of transformational change.

But progress sometimes brings challenges, and we have to be ready for those, too. 

When neighborhoods attract record levels of investment, like west Louisville is right now, we must ensure the people who make these neighborhoods home today can afford to stay and prosper.

Because it’s not enough to invest in our neighborhoods; we have to invest in our neighbors as well.

The Russell: A Place of Promise initiative, launched with a $5 million grant from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust, is working to attract investment without displacing existing businesses and residents – creating partnerships with the people of Russell to build income and wealth within our African American community.

Dorian Burton of the Kenan Charitable Trust is with us today. He’s an outstanding national leader in this work, and we’re grateful for our partnership with him and with Kenan. Thank you!

My team and I also are working with Metro Council on a series of proposals, including a recently announced change in our property tax system, to help longtime homeowners stay in their homes, even as their neighborhoods develop, and property values rise.

And I’d like to thank the Metro Council for their service to our city. 

Another area that needs that our attention is training our workforce to be ready for 21st Century jobs.

According to the Brookings Institution, more than a quarter of Louisville’s jobs are at high risk for automation. That’s the fifth-highest rate among the country’s top 100 Metro areas.

So, we need to be ready.

That’s why, for example, part of a $3 million grant we won from JPMorgan Chase is helping create Tech Louisville, an entry-level tech training initiative in specific low-income neighborhoods.

It’s why we’re scaling programs like Code Louisville, which just placed its 400th graduate in a good-paying job and a tech career.

But we need more.  

My goal is to increase both Louisville’s tech talent pipeline and the number of tech jobs by 500 percent.

Our economy requires more skilled tech professionals at every level, and nearly every business requires tech skills.

That’s especially true in some of our core business clusters, like advanced manufacturing, and particularly, wellness and aging care. 

This cluster is an area of tremendous opportunity. Louisville is the home of more companies in the wellness and aging care industry than any other city in America.

You’ve got the high level of expertise and skills in these companies. Plus, the fact that the more than 70 million Baby Boomers are at or near retirement.

That gives us an incredible opportunity for further breakthroughs in technology, data, and the delivery of healthcare and other services to help people live longer, healthier lives.

That’s why I’m excited by the growth of the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council. 

These leaders represent companies with collective annual revenue of over $66 billion.

 And they’re collaborating and innovating in ways that strengthen their businesses and improve health outcomes, while also helping fund entrepreneurs. 

Today, 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.

Tammy York Day, the Council’s president and CEO, is here with us today.  And she’s joined by Kyle Dowlin, the co-founder and president of HomeHero, which uses technology to help families provide home-based care for their loved ones. 

Kyle moved HomeHero from New York City to Louisville.

And he will be one of the entrepreneurs taking part in the Chairman’s Circle. Congratulations, Kyle – and best of luck!

What a beautiful synergy: Our city will lead the way in creating opportunities  to live longer, healthier lives now, and in turn, create opportunities for the next generation to start long and healthy careers. Right here in Louisville.

The potential in our lifelong wellness and aging care cluster is also critical to our Future of Work Initiative. That’s our Microsoft partnership, with a focus on Artificial Intelligence, Data Science and the Internet of Things.

All this will fuel Louisville’s reputation as a leader in this growing sector and improve our city’s economic landscape for generations.

Of course, to really prepare our workforce for the 21st Century economy, we have to start early, making sure that our children, right from the start, are on a path to reach their full potential.  

That’s the focus of Evolve502, Louisville’s system of lifelong learning. It’s the successor to 55,000 Degrees and our Cradle to Career framework, and it keys on two main areas:

First, imagine living in a city where every child is ready for school on Day One.

They have the resources they need to learn, because the barriers that might hold them back – like poverty, substance use, mental health issues and hunger – have been erased, and they have access to health care, tutoring, transportation, housing.  

The Evolve502 cross-sector partnership is working to simplify how we get children and their families to the services they need.

And second, imagine a city where every high school student knows that if they work hard, they can go to college without worrying about the cost of tuition.

This year, you’ll hear more about our work with private donors and 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, and we’re working now to raise millions more.

You’ll hear more about the Evolve502 scholarship later this spring. I’d like to thank our Evolve502 board members and executive director Marland Cole for their hard work.

This is work Rotarians know all about. The Rotary Promise Scholarship is already opening college doors for students from four local high schools.

Recognizing that the No. 1 disrupter of poverty is a post-secondary degree, you’re putting skin in the game, and we appreciate your partnership.  

We also have great partnerships with U of L, which recently launched the IBM Skills Academy, and with JCPS, which will open its first Females of Color STEAM academy this fall, helping us cultivate the next generation of innovators.

This new school complements the work JCPS is doing with local businesses on the Academies of Louisville, where students are getting meaningful learning experiences that tie directly to 140 companies that will be hiring when these students enter the workforce.

Dr. Marty Pollio is with us today. Dr. Pollio, thank you and thanks to everyone at JCPS for your partnership.

And to support the JCPS Academies, we’re working to align them with SummerWorks, creating an even more robust talent pipeline for our business clusters.

As you can see, a critical part of our strategy is to build an ecosystem that promotes the learning, innovation and development that creates paths to opportunity right here in our city.

That’s the goal, right? To create a city where our kids and their kids will want to start careers, businesses and families of their own. 

And I have to say, one thing that’s been incredibly exciting is to see so many of young people taking ownership of their own collective future.

  • They’re organizing, standing up and speaking out
  • on gun safety
  • Climate change

And my Youth Implementation Team has done outstanding work helping us respond to teen suicide and the vaping epidemic that’s hurting children and adults across the country, and claimed its first life in Kentucky last month.

Here’s a look at our Youth Implementation Team and some of the work they do.

Fadumo Abdullahi is a member of the implementation team. And she’s with us today. Thank you, Fadumo for your leadership! 

These young people aren’t waiting to be told it’s their turn to lead. They’re taking an active role in shaping their futures.

I’m proud to stand with them, as we battle corporations who use an addiction strategy to take advantage of young people for profit.

That’s why we filed suit just weeks ago against Juul Labs, the largest manufacturer of e-cigarette and vaping products. 

Like our lawsuit against opioid companies that dumped millions of pills into Louisville neighborhoods, we want to hold accountable those who are destroying lives, families and futures.  

We will use any funds recovered through these lawsuits to provide health support for those impacted by these epidemics. 

Our goal is to create the conditions for everyone’s human potential to flourish.

Because as Louisville and our nation grow more global and diverse, and the economy evolves and becomes even more competitive, we need everyone educated and believing in the possibilities  for themselves, their families and their communities.

And to cultivate that sense of possibility, we have to invest more in ourselves.

Out of our 17 peer cities, we were 16th in terms of public spending per capita last year, according to preliminary research by the Greater Louisville Project. As a businessperson, I can tell you that’s not the way you get ahead. You must invest. 

We live in a competitive world – we’re competing for businesses and for talent, and we compete on quality of life and quality of place. And our competitor cities are investing in themselves:

  • Indianapolis passed a transit tax to completely revamp their bus service
  • Cincinnati is making significant investments in transportation and schools
  • Voters in Tampa approved a major road and transportation investment 
  • Austin has added significant funding for affordable housing
  • And Oklahoma City voters approved billions of dollars in public funding to address infrastructure and education needs, and to improve quality of life. And the great thing is, that public investment  was leveraged three times over by follow-up private investment.

Former Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett, a Republican,  once said, "It's not that other mayors and cities didn't want to do what we've done. We just figured out a way to pay for it.”

I am confident that Louisville can figure this out, too. And we must.  

There are multiple options.

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.

These issues are all under discussion in Frankfort.

And I am having conversations with Governor Beshear and with legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle about the need to invest in the people of Kentucky, including our city, the economic engine of the state.

However we move forward, the priority is achieving results.

And we can solve this funding challenge like we’ve solved so many others – by working together.

That’s why I ask today that you let your elected representatives know you support investing in the potential of our city.

Remind them what we’ve accomplished without the investment capacity our competitor cities have. Imagine what we could do with the power to create our own future.

We could address the key challenges I talked about: equity, workforce and built environment.

We could invest in…

the under-resourced teenager who wants a future of education and opportunity.
the working parent who needs new skills to provide for their kids and secure their own retirement.  
We could repair and improve our roads, bridges, buildings, parks and our wastewater and flood protection systems.

To do this, we need your voices to be heard, loudly and frequently, by those who have the power – and the responsibility – to provide the tools we need to make those investments.

There are cards on your tables with information about how to do that.

And I have one more request of you today – I ask every year, because it’s so important.

Please support SummerWorks.

Remember your first summer job?  Your first boss or mentor, who taught you how to do a job, how to be a professional?

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.

I thank you in advance for your help, and more importantly, folks like this young man thank you.  

Ghadi  is here with us today, along with Allison Martin from GE Appliances, and Chris Locke, director of SummerWorks.

Thank you all for joining us today and for the great work you’re doing.

The transformational experience Ghadi is having is one that we want every young person to have. And you can help make that a reality.

There are postcards with information on your table. Go to Summerworks.org to sign up your company or make a donation. Please make this investment in the future of Louisville.

I’ll close by thanking the young people of our city.  

They inspire us.  They remind us that we have much to celebrate – and much work to do. 

They will grow up in ways we can’t fully imagine.

And someday they’ll have children and grandchildren of their own.

That’s why it’s essential that we do everything in our control today to clear their path and light their way.

That’s our challenge and our opportunity. Thank you all for your time and attention.

Thank you for the love and compassion you show our city.

Let’s keep working together to create the Louisville we want for ourselves, and that our children and grandchildren deserve.  

Thank you.