Mayor Michael B. Coleman delivers his 15th State of the City Address tonight in the Battelle Grand Ballroom at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. The mayor’s speech calls for a community focus on reaching the unemployed, underemployed, undereducated, homeless and others who have not fully shared in Columbus’ prosperity. Mayor Coleman will announce several initiatives toward this goal, including:
· Early Start Columbus, a $5 million city investment in quality preschool education;
· FastPath, a $1.5 million city investment in career readiness, led by Columbus State Community College;
· Blueprint Columbus, a comprehensive green infrastructure project that will create jobs, train workers, strengthen neighborhoods and protect our environment.
· A $1.1 million city investment in the Community Shelter Board to address homelessness;
· Housing Works, an effort to create access to workforce housing in and around job centers, including Downtown;
· An expansion of Restoration Academy to serve 50 rehabilitated felons per year;
The prepared text of Mayor Coleman’s State of the City Address is below.
Welcome to Battelle Grand Ballroom and the Greater Columbus Convention Center. I want to thank the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority for allowing us to be here tonight.
This is a great space that hosts terrific events, and it’s about to get even better.
The Convention Facilities Authority is planning a $30 million complete renovation that will dramatically improve the look and feel of our Convention Center.
A century ago, this was the site of Union Station, which handled as many as 112 railroad passenger trains each day.
By the 1970s, passenger rail service was a thing of the past, and Union Station was closed. In the 80s, this was the Ohio Center, a popular concert venue that hosted Prince, Billy Idol, Rick James and Culture Club.
In the 90s, Columbus celebrated the opening of the convention center here. But there wasn’t much to celebrate around it.
To the north, the beginnings of an arts district that had yet to bear fruit. To the south our Downtown was a 9-5 business and government center that emptied out at rush hour and on the weekends. To the west was an abandoned prison site that put our public riverfront to waste.
That was just 20 years ago.
Today we are surrounded by success.
The Short North Arts District. The Arena District. The Hilton convention hotel. The North Market. And a thriving Downtown neighborhood with world-class parks, signature bridges, great restaurants, fun nightspots, convenient retail and thousands of new residents.
Columbus has changed dramatically.
We have transformed from a great American city to one of America’s greatest cities.
We are smart. In fact, for the second consecutive year, we’ve made the Intelligent Community Forum’s list of the seven smartest cities in the world.
And we are open. In fact, Columbus earned a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Equality Index.
We are the best managed city in America.
Just a few months ago, the Civic Foundation said Columbus is in better fiscal condition than any other major city in the country.
And we’re the largest American city with both a positive financial outlook and a Triple-A credit rating from the three major rating agencies.
I want to recognize Auditor Hugh Dorrian for his unparalleled leadership on this front.
We are one of the greenest cities in America.
It’s hard to believe that only two years ago, we didn’t have curbside residential recycling. And today our recycling program is so successful that we are expanding it to 16,000 condos and apartments. Now one of the best in the country, our recycling efforts earned us the Green City Award.
I want to recognize Councilmember Michelle Mills for her partnership on this effort.
Our city vehicle division has been declared the greenest fleet on the entire continent.
We have reduced congestion and pollution with new modes of alternative transportation. We have 102 miles of off-road bike trails in Columbus, and 320 miles throughout Franklin County.
I want to thank Councilmember Hearcel Craig for his partnership on our bikeways.
We launched CoGo Bikeshare, a network of 300 bicycles that have traveled about 78,000 miles in just a few months. And we launched Car2go, a vehicle sharing program using high-tech, low-emission smart cars.
And we are one of the best American cities for jobs.
In 2013 our work created more than 3,700 new jobs, $774 million in private investment and almost $30 million in new annual payroll.
Already this year we’ve made deals to create another 600 new jobs, and we’ll announce more soon that could double that figure.
I want to thank Councilmember Zach Klein for his leadership on economic development.
We are the largest city in Ohio, larger than Cleveland and Cincinnati combined, larger than Detroit, Boston, Baltimore or Washington D.C.
Georgetown University says we’re No. 2 in the nation for employment for young adults.
Forbes said we’re 7th in the nation for female-owned businesses.
We also received top 10 rankings this past year for
- business climate
- post-recession job growth
- and new college graduates
In my 15th year as mayor, I am proud to say that the state of our city is strong, and becoming more successful each day.
Unfortunately, not everybody is sharing in the success of our city.
Columbus is a community of stark and sobering contrasts. Some bask in the glow of our success while others struggle every day just to see the light.
Despite one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, we have one of the highest poverty rates.
Despite a job market that is the envy of much of the country, our median household income is $8,000 lower than the national average.
Despite almost one million people working in Columbus—more than at any point in our history—some neighborhoods have unemployment rates of more than 30 percent.
Despite our status as one of the most affordable cities in the nation, more than a thousand of our residents are homeless every day.
Despite being home to some of the best colleges and universities in the nation, more than 30,000 of our children are trapped in failing schools.
For all the prosperity in Columbus, not everybody is sharing in it. We will not truly fulfill our promise as a city, until we share our success with all our residents.
Residents like DeLane Smith.
Just last year, DeLane had a good job in information technology. A couple of months ago, his car broke down on the way to work. Because he was paying child support and other living expenses, DeLane couldn’t afford his car repairs. Because his employer was not on the bus line, DeLane lost his job. Because of his loss of income, he was evicted from his apartment. Now he’s living at a Faith Mission shelter. He wants to work. He is able to work. But he hasn’t yet found a job near the bus line.
Residents like Lisa Bryant.
Lisa was transferred to Columbus from Indiana by her employer. Once she arrived here, she was told she would need to move to Cincinnati. She couldn’t afford a second move, and so she lost her job. Since then, she’s found work and is doing well at her new job. But she too, is still living at a Faith Mission shelter as she seeks permanent housing.
We need to share our city’s success with residents like DeLane and Lisa.
Sharing our success means ensuring our residents have roofs over their heads and strong neighborhoods to live in.
It means extending to all our children their right to a quality education.
It means training our workforce to fill the good jobs that are available today.
And it means increasing opportunity for workers seeking better wages.
These are deep-seeded challenges, and they will not be solved through good intentions or high aspirations alone. They will be solved in our neighborhoods, our businesses, our homes and in the hearts and minds of every resident. And I believe the city has a role too.
_ _ _
We must prepare our residents for success.
And the greatest threat to the success of Columbus is our failure to prepare our children for the future.
Our new superintendent, Dan Good, is setting a tone of academic and administrative accountability at Columbus City Schools.
And we have a school board that is retooled and ready to go.
But the challenges facing our kids are daunting, and Dr. Good and the school board cannot solve them alone.
Our schools remain in crisis, and our kids remain in jeopardy. More than half of our third graders are in danger of being held back because they cannot pass the state reading exam. The curtain has been lifted on the culture of dishonesty that led to the data scrubbing scandal. Public confidence was shattered, as demonstrated by the failure of the fall school levy.
We cannot allow the failure of adults to translate into the failure of our children for the next generation. Too much is at stake.
I want our kids to know we are still in your corner, no matter your family situation, your neighborhood or economic status.
In fact we must double down on our efforts to give our children a quality education. That means parents need to be parents. Good schools are no substitute for good parents. The best school reading program will never be as effective as a parent reading with a child at home.
It means voters paying attention to what happens on the school board. It means the private sector investing in our kids. And it means the City of Columbus doing our part too.
I am pleased to announce the new Columbus director of education, Rhonda Johnson.
She will focus on improving the education of our kids, engaging directly with the superintendent and serving as the city’s voice on the Board of Education.
When our kids enter kindergarten prepared to learn, they are prepared for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately, 34 percent of Columbus City Schools children enter kindergarten unprepared. And almost 60 percent of our third graders are not ready to pass the state’s third-grade reading guarantee. This requires them to repeat the third grade.
Not only will this strain our resources, facilities and teachers. But by failing to read at the very basic third-grade level, these children will already be behind before they get started in life.
Education must start early.
Many cities and states get this. In Denver, 90 percent of children who participate in preschool are prepared for kindergarten. In Tennessee, students who attended state-funded preschool scored 82 percent better on early reading and math skills than those who didn’t. Even in Georgia, 82 percent of pre-K kids scored higher on 3rd grade reading.
Our Columbus Education Commission got it right too. The Commission recommended we extend a quality early-childhood education to four-year-olds.
So tonight, I am proud to announce Early Start Columbus. We will invest $5 million in Early Start Columbus to provide quality preschool education in the coming school year.
I want to thank Council President Andy Ginther for his leadership on this issue.
We will work with leaders from the business, faith and education communities as well as the state and federal government to develop a long-term pre-K plan for four-year-olds.
We need to get our kids ready to learn, ready to read and ready to succeed. And we need to start now with Early Start Columbus.
_ _ _
We also share our success as a city by getting our workforce ready for the jobs we create. And we are very successful in creating jobs. Since 2000, we’ve created about 40,000 jobs in Columbus.
We don’t have a problem creating jobs. We have a problem filling jobs.
Today 23,000 residents are out of work. Yet 20,000 jobs are available to be filled right now. We need to fill the jobs we already have.
In just six years it is estimated that nearly 60 percent of our jobs will need a post-high school credential. Today, only one third of our residents meet this standard.
We will meet this challenge by closing our skills gap.
We are beginning a consortium of Columbus State Community College, COWIC, AEP, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, JP Morgan Chase, Columbus City Schools and the city.
We will marshal our forces to meet today’s workforce needs by developing the skills of our people.
Dr. David Harrison, president of Columbus State, will lead an initiative called FastPath.
Under FastPath, Columbus State will work with employers like Nationwide Children’s Hospital to identify employment needs and develop work-based training for our unemployed and underemployed.
Under FastPath, some careers, such as medical assistants, may require extensive training or even an associate degree, while others will require only job readiness training for immediate placement.
The City of Columbus will invest at least $1.5 million of our education funds to give FastPath a jumpstart.
Through this partnership, we will close the skills gap and put our people back to work.
I want to thank Councilmember Priscilla Tyson for her leadership on workforce development.
_ _ _
We need to share our success by rebuilding the lives of our homeless.
Columbus is the best city in the nation when it comes to caring for our most vulnerable residents, thanks to the Community Shelter Board’s Rebuilding Lives Program and its partners.
But despite our efforts, homelessness is becoming a bigger problem in Columbus, not smaller. We have more homeless today than at any time in our history. On any given day this winter, there are 1,200 homeless people in Columbus. And our shelters are so full that 150 more are left outside to fend for themselves.
We must reduce homelessness in Columbus. But to do so requires us to embrace new strategies that have not been advanced by any community in the nation.
The Community Shelter Board will create the nation’s first case management system of customized intensive individual care so that when someone shows up at the door of our shelters, they can know there is hope on the other side.
To this end, the city will invest an additional $1.1 million to move them from homeless to homeward bound.
These increased resources will do more than just warehouse folks with a cot and a hot meal. These resources will help our homeless find a job, find a place to live, address mental health or substance abuse issues, find transportation when needed and secure benefits when eligible.
In other words, through individualized case management, we aim to put our homeless in a position to share in our city’s success.
I want to thank City Council for its support of this effort and also the Franklin County Commissioners and the private sector for joining with us.
_ _ _
We must share success wherever success appears.
A decade ago, our city went on a journey in uncharted waters to create housing Downtown. As a result, Downtown Columbus is now the epicenter of the strongest housing market in the region.
I am proud of this success.
Today there are approximately 6,200 housing units built or in the pipeline Downtown. New restaurants are opening. Two grocery stores and a successful North Market give food shoppers a place to go. Employees live within a block or two of their jobs and retail is on its way. Lively street life, lively nightlife, lively neighborhoods. Even I moved Downtown.
But our success has been tempered because not everybody can live Downtown.
When we began this effort, I said that Downtown is everybody’s neighborhood. But when it comes to housing, it’s not.
If you cannot afford $2,500 rent for a two-bedroom apartment, then you cannot live Downtown, even if you work Downtown.
About 82,000 people work Downtown today. It’s a diverse workforce ranging from CEOs of international corporations to street vendors. But Downtown living shouldn’t just be possible for CEOs. Others working Downtown should be able to live there, too.
Tonight I present to you Housing Works, a new effort to give working people an opportunity to live near their jobs. This includes Downtown and other job centers around the city.
I propose that the city set aside $11 million in capital funds over the next five years to help incentivize workforce housing in and around Columbus job centers.
People should be able to live where they work whether it’s Downtown or around town.
_ _ _
The best way to share our city’s success is to bring more good jobs to Columbus.
And when major sporting events and conventions land in Columbus, jobs follow.
In fact, travel and tourism supports more than 61,000 jobs in Central Ohio. That’s why this year we’re investing more than $8 million on travel and tourism with Experience Columbus.
These investments are paying off with new conventions and sporting events.
This past year we hosted the Presidents Cup and the World Cup qualifier soccer match. Next year Nationwide Arena will host the National Hockey League All Star Game. Columbus will host nine NCAA championship tournaments including the Women’s Volleyball Championships and the Frozen Four. And Columbus is one of seven finalists to host the NCAA Women’s Final Four.
I want to recognize Linda Logan of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission and Brian Ross of Experience Columbus for their outstanding work.
And we’re not done. We are going to pursue a major political convention in 2016.
I am a proud Democrat. The only Republican I’ve ever voted for is Dean Ringle, our county engineer. And that was by accident.
While I will be supporting the Democratic nominee, I want our city to land either the Democratic or the Republican National Convention in 2016, whether the nominee on the stage at Nationwide Arena is Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush, Joe Biden or Sarah Palin.
Well, maybe not Sarah Palin.
The Republican or Democratic National Convention would create an infusion of jobs, revenue and international recognition while injecting millions into our economy. And it would command the eyes of the world on the City of Columbus in a way that no other event could.
We may not be successful. But by submitting a competitive bid, we are sending a message to the rest of the nation and the rest of the world that Columbus is ready for prime time.
_ _ _
And being ready for prime time requires strong passenger air service.
Port Columbus is located in the center of the state. It is in the center of the economy for Ohio, the center of government for Ohio, the center for higher education for Ohio, and should be the gateway to Ohio for the rest of the nation.
No longer should we view Port Columbus as our local airport.
Port Columbus is Ohio’s airport.
I thank Susan Tomasky, chair of the Columbus Regional Airport Authority Board, for her efforts.
Direct flights are instrumental to our ability to recruit and expand businesses in Columbus. It is simple: direct flights mean direct investment in Columbus.
Daily, 142 direct flights carry passengers from Port Columbus to 31 destinations. Last year two daily direct flights were added to Los Angeles. But LA remains our only direct flight to the West Coast.
San Francisco is an important and growing market for our business community.
Every single day, 200 travelers hop a plane from Columbus to the Bay Area. Actually, they hop two planes because there are no direct flights to San Francisco. Working with the Airport Authority’s outstanding president, Elaine Roberts, we intend to change that.
Securing this service will connect Columbus with the entire Bay Area and serve as a valuable gateway to Asia while bringing in thousands of visitors and their money.
Port Columbus is more than an airport. It is a major jobs center that generates more than 33,000 jobs with more than $1.1 billion in payroll. Studies say we can grow 24,000 more jobs in the region around the airport.
Like the new jobs created by the Daimler Group, a real estate development company. Daimler will invest about $24 million in new manufacturing and office buildings, creating space for 400 new employees at the airport.
As we continue to focus on direct flights and economic development, we must also look to the future. It is time to begin thinking of our airport as more than a place we catch a plane. I believe it is time to redefine our airport as the center of transportation for the region.
Just think about it. The airport is located between three major job centers and tourist destinations, Downtown, Easton and the Ohio State University.
Yet neither our tourists nor our residents can take public mass transit to any of them from the airport. In fact, you cannot even take a bus directly from Port Columbus to Downtown without a transfer.
Today, freight rail lines run from Downtown to the areas near the airport. In the 1920s this same track brought people from New York and Washington D.C. to Columbus to catch a flight. So the question is: Can we connect our Downtown to our airport by passenger rail?
The Airport Authority has wisely accumulated real estate around the airport, which could be used for something more than surface parking lots. The airport is geographically positioned to be a transportation center for rail service, bus service and more efficient car service. We need to explore the possibilities for the future.
So I’ve asked Dan Rosenthal, President of Milestone Aviation Group, to chair a task force to develop a playbook for increasing direct flights, expanding economic development and examining the feasibility of making Ohio’s airport a regional transportation center.
_ _ _
We must protect the success of this great city with strong, sustainable neighborhoods.
I want to thank Councilmember Troy Miller for his leadership on strengthening our neighborhoods.
Tonight I am proud to announce a new and innovative green neighborhood effort that addresses neighborhoods, job creation, job training, kids and families and protecting our environment.
This new neighborhood park was a vacant lot where the South Side Settlement House once stood. It will also serve as a storm water treatment facility without looking like one.
This small park represents a big new $2.5 billion, 30-year initiative called Blueprint Columbus. Blueprint Columbus is an innovative sustainability program that builds parks and green space in neighborhoods while dealing with the massive sanitary sewer problem that has plagued Columbus for generations.
Here is how it works. When we get too much rain, sewage can overflow from our aging sewers into our rivers, our streams and sometimes our basements.
To address this problem, communities typically construct miles and miles of large tunnels dedicated solely to holding sewer overflows a few days per year after significant rainfall.
We believe there is a better way.
Blueprint Columbus will keep storm water from entering sewers in the first place. We will divert water away from sewers toward rain gardens and surface water filters.
In order to accomplish this grand mission we will convert the eyesore of blighted, vacant and abandoned land into new parks in neighborhoods across Columbus.
Not only does Blueprint Columbus revitalize our neighborhoods physically and environmentally, it creates a new industry and a new market in Columbus.
Year after year in neighborhood after neighborhood, we will fund projects with companies that will employ hundreds of engineers, designers, construction and maintenance workers to create new green space, and divert thousands of gallons of water.
We will partner with Columbus Urban League and Columbus State Community College to train new workers and prepare small businesses with new skills to compete in this new market.
Blueprint Columbus is comprehensive and speaks to so many of our goals: job creation, workforce training, business development, neighborhood transformation, health and a strong environment.
I want to thank Councilmember Eileen Paley for her partnership on this effort.
_ _ _
Sharing our success also means giving people a second chance in life after they have paid their dues to society.
For someone carrying the weight of a felony conviction, it can feel hopeless. With few job offers and little hope for one, few employers will take a chance on convicted felons. They wear the mark of a criminal that cannot easily be erased.
Many rehabilitated felons lose any legitimate skills they ever possessed while in prison, whether those skills were limited or substantial.
And after spending years in prison, the world to which they’ve been released is foreign to them.
With the deck stacked against them, they are faced with a difficult choice: to find a way to fit in or to throw in the towel by committing another crime.
So, working with COWIC and our Civil Service Commission, we formed Restoration Academy, a small program with a big impact. Restoration Academy gives rehabilitated felons a chance to restore their lives and the community they violated through rigorous skill training, academic remediation and physical conditioning.
Not everybody makes it. In the first two years, 24 out of 30 graduated from Restoration Academy, and 22 have found jobs.
This year, we are increasing the size of the program from 15 people to 50.
At the beginning of each class, I eat lunch with the participants in my office. I listen to their stories. I hear their hopes, and I hear their frustrations.
This is how I met Les Rutland. He was part of our first Restoration Academy class. While others were excited and rearing to go, Les had a chip on his shoulder. He had a disgusted expression on his face. He slumped in his chair. And he seemed to blame everybody else in the room for his situation.
I believed there was no way Les would graduate from Restoration Academy.
Les spent nine years in prison for aggravated burglary. Afterward, Les wanted to work, and had some early success. But eventually he drifted through part-time jobs without hope of gainful fulltime employment. He faced obstacle after obstacle due to mistakes for which he had already paid.
But something happened along the way. Les reversed course, took on the challenge, demonstrated leadership and approached this new opportunity with renewed vigor.
He proved me wrong and graduated from Restoration Academy. In fact, he was so impressive that he was elected class speaker at the graduation ceremony, giving one of the best heartfelt speeches I have ever heard, bringing myself and the audience to tears. Today he is a city custodian who has earned the admiration of his coworkers and supervisors.
Les says, “I feel respected. I feel that what I do, even though it’s custodial, matters. I come in every day, and I do the best I can do because I know there’s opportunity.”
Les, I want you to know that everything you do matters. I want you to know that I respect the fact that you turned your life around, even when the deck was stacked against you.
Les reminds us what we can achieve when we seize the opportunity.
Columbus is a great city. We become an even greater city when we seize the opportunity and share our success with all our residents.