State of the City Address
Mayor Jim Suttle
Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 – University of Nebraska Medical Center
Thank you for being here today. I'd like to extend a special thanks to administrators, faculty and staff at the University of Nebraska Medical Center for hosting this year's State of the City Address.
2012 was an interesting year. We saw the fruits of our labor with an increase in business development and job opportunities in Omaha. We also forged new public/private partnerships on future developments we believe will set us on a new course of economic growth for decades to come.
Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is everything. It's the preview of life's coming attractions.” Plans for the new Cancer Center at UNMC are an example of expansion in our city that will draw international attention to Omaha and produce long term economic gains.
My thanks to the City Council for enabling business leaders to invest around 400 million dollars in a World Class Cancer Center which we anticipate will bring thousands of jobs to Midtown Omaha.
I'm sure many of you are aware of the Brookings Institution report released this week ranking Omaha number one among cities making successful comebacks from the recession. This didn't just happen by accident. It evolved from city leaders, businesses, non-profits, community organizations, foundations, neighborhood associations and individuals who were:
• committed to Omaha,
• committed to working collaboratively
• and committed to doing their part to move our city forward
As Mayor, I have been dedicated to overcoming severe budget shortfalls, cutting city expenses every year that I've been in office, streamlining city operations without impacting vital city services and modernizing city government with the use of technology. City Hall is more efficient and effective today than it has been in decades.
That, however, was not enough to get us through the kind of economic crisis we faced when I came into office. If our business community, non-profits, and foundations didn't make a commitment to work with us, filling gaps left by serious cuts in spending and a faltering economy, we would not be where we are today.
I would like to recognize our businesses, non-profits and foundations who truly did their part to lift our city out of a recession and give us, yet another number one ranking among U.S. cities this week. I am humbled by your dedication to this great community we live in.
Speaking of our strengths as a city, earlier today I had the pleasure of attending the Omaha Young Professionals Summit. I am both proud and fortunate to be Mayor of a City with such a talented young professional workforce. The future of Omaha is bright thanks to these young professionals!
2012 was a year of maximizing available resources and making business development, jobs and reducing violence a priority of this administration.
I know it's not exciting, but keeping our City financially stable continues to pave the way for local businesses who are regaining confidence in our marketplace and its workforce. Omaha continues to attract new investment from businesses like Gavilon, which is building its headquarters downtown, while businesses like Airlite Plastics make plans to expand in our Airport Industrial Park. Residents in North Omaha are anxiously waiting for the new Walmart store on 50th and Ames to open. Aside from the shopping, this store will provide 300 jobs to people living in the area. These three businesses alone are increasing our workforce by almost 1000 employees.
Our City saw a particular increase in business growth east of 72nd Street this year, and I am confident that we can continue this momentum by working together. Job creation must continue to be a top priority in our City, and although we are seeing progress we cannot ease up on jobs as long as there are areas of our city with 20 and 30 percent unemployment.
A couple of months ago, I starting meeting regularly with local business leaders to learn about the innovative ways they succeeded in a tough economy and hear directly from employers what city government can do to further stimulate job growth.
On the recommendation of these area businesses, I am planning to invest dollars from the 2014 budget in job training initiatives that educate, train, and connect job seekers with employers looking to hire. We must do more to match job training with industry needs. My office is partnering with the UNO College of Business Administration to provide local producers with the skills needed to support the growth and development of “farm to table” operations.
These operations give people access to local, high –quality produce and will also serve as engines for job creation.
I will continue to look for ways to enhance tax-increment financing to improve cost-effective growth for local businesses looking to start-up or relocate inside the freeway loop. Tax increment financing has been a valuable tool as we reach out to businesses interested in redeveloping areas of the City stretching from Elkhorn to the River Front. Since I've been Mayor, 44 TIF project worth nearly half a billion dollars have created more than 700 jobs and generated 16 million dollars in combined revenue for the City.
We have supported nearly 217 small businesses by awarding 13-million dollars in contract and professional service agreements through the small and emerging business program we created to cultivate small and minority businesses.
Omaha is working again!
Unemployment dropped to 3.7%, 475 businesses chose to locate or expand their operations in Omaha last year, 16-thousand more people were employed in our city and close to 800 jobs opportunities opened up for Omaha residents in areas with high levels of unemployment.
Along with business development and jobs, keeping our neighborhoods safe and reducing violence in our city has, and will continue to be a primary focus of mine.
At last year's State of the City I announced the formation of two Task Forces to address problems with illegal guns, gangs, vacant properties and landlords. The Landlord Task Force expanded the city's Closed Property ordinance, strengthening the Omaha Police Department's authority to remove trespassers or tenants creating problems. City Planning, Fire and Police Departments are coordinating an exchange of up-to-date information on vacant properties. This task force also recommended re-invigorating the Neighborhood Scan project, allowing neighborhood groups to keep track of deteriorating properties and work neighbor to neighbor to minimize code and nuisance violations. At the recommendation of this Task Force the City invested 800,000 dollars in this year's budget to remove vacant and run down properties so they will not attract criminal activity to our neighborhoods.
Like the Landlord Task Force, the Illegal Gun Task Force was made up of professionals in city government, elected officials and citizens in our community who understand the importance of getting illegal guns off our streets. This task force was asked to expand the City's ongoing search for innovative ways to reduce gun violence.
The Illegal Gun Task Force recommended that the City expand the Omaha Police Department's Gang Suppression Unit. We will be reallocating existing resources and using grant money to add a gang specialist in South Omaha as well as a relief shift to the Gang Unit's operations, allowing Omaha Police to provide coverage of gang activity in the City 7 days a week.
Omaha 360, established a steering committee of stakeholders from North and South Omaha who can provide leadership, guidance and assist in collaborative efforts with the various groups, and agencies working toward reducing gun violence in the city. It is our hope that these representatives will keep an ongoing and consistent watch on the types of crime taking place in our city and provide input on ways to solve these problems before they get out of hand.
As Mayor, I feel responsible to do everything in my power to protect the people who live in our community, specifically our children. In 2012, nearly 950 guns were removed from Omaha streets.
We have invested significant time and resources to reduce violence in our City with a balanced approach of enforcement, community outreach, public-private partnerships and job training programs. That said, we cannot win the fight against violent crime alone. We need the help of our state lawmakers and the governor to keep violent, repeat offenders off our streets.
Nebraska automatically cuts prison sentences for most individuals convicted of violent crimes by at least half, and in many cases even more, because of Nebraska's “Good Time” early release laws.
It is unacceptable to put our citizen's lives at risk on a regular basis in order to cut costs in the state prison system. Too many violent criminals and gang members are not getting the assistance they need to establish a plan for re-entry.
I am asking lawmakers in Lincoln to eliminate “Good Time” early release for all violent offenders, those committing gun or gang crimes and repeat violent offenders.
This week the Omaha City Council joined me in this effort, unanimously approving a resolution urging state lawmakers to take action to keep violent criminals off our streets.
Jobs are also a key part of crime prevention. I am committed to creating job opportunities in high-unemployment areas of our city. Summer youth employment helped curb incidence of violence last summer among young people between the ages of 14 and 24.
The City invested a little over half a million dollars, which was matched by local businesses for the Step-Up youth employment program, reducing gun assaults by 36%. One fourth of the youth employed through Step-Up last summer stayed on as permanent employees at the companies they worked for.
Economist Robert Ringer said “Reality isn't the way you wish things to be, nor the way they appear to be, but the way they actually are,” so I'd like to be honest about where we stand today and what you can expect moving forward.
For the third year in a row the Government Finance Officers Association has given my Finance Department its highest recognition in the area of governmental accounting and financial reporting. This has never been done before in the history of Omaha City Government. The Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting was again awarded to the City of Omaha this week by the Government Finance Office of the United States for our comprehensive annual financial report.
In spite of unexpected expenses we are still protecting and building our city's cash reserves, so that we can continue looking ahead and planning for the long term.
We have put almost all our planning permits on line, making permit approval more efficient for developers and contractors.
A growing number of Omaha residents are reporting problems using a smart phone app my office made available for the first time in 2012.
Omaha Serves has expanded its community outreach this year, working with non-profits, community organizations, neighborhood associations and citizens on issues dealing with hunger, poverty, neighborhood blueprints and more. Craig Howell is our Community Service Director. He and his VISTA volunteers reach out to help community organizations and neighborhood advocates on a daily basis.
Our Public Works Department continues to fine tune our snow removal processes… earning praise during last week's snow storm for getting streets and sidewalks cleared with very few complaints.
We are getting an influx of new money into our city with a 15% increase in out-of-town guests visiting Omaha.
We continue to stay committed to the City's infrastructure by maintaining streets. Since taking office my administration has resurfaced a record number of lane miles.
My goal in the years ahead is to continue turning the tide on shortsighted decision-making which may produce short term political benefits but prevents city government from providing quality services to its' residents. Our successes in city government have come from long term financial planning, looking at economic development and transportation needs that extend beyond any Mayor's term in office. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of long term thinking to keep our city's foundation strong, keep our expenses low… saving taxpayers money, and continue to make Omaha attractive to employers and employees, get people to work and reduce crime.
I look forward to working with each of you in the coming weeks and months to continue getting things done.