State of the Cities in 2011: Infrastructure a Prerequisite for Economic Success

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This is the fifth in a seven-part series about mayors’ 2011 State of the City speeches.

In difficult economic times, the need to invest in city infrastructure—transportation, public works and technology—does not decline.  Rather, residents still expect usable roads, transit options, clean water and technological advances.  And as cities struggle to maintain economic competitiveness, mayors recognize that city infrastructure is the necessary shell that allows cities to develop their economies and attract new investment.

In their State of the City addresses, mayors routinely stressed the importance of infrastructure investment as a way, not only to increase quality of life, but to create jobs and spur development.  Their focus is on the future of their cities.

For instance, Mayor Benjamin of Columbia, S.C., declared that “if we’re going to lead on job creation, we must first lead on transportation.”  His intention is to promote public transportation in an entirely different way than the city has in the past, which includes energy efficient buses, regional transportation hubs and inter-modal options.  “This is about a new vision that sees public transportation not as a burden to be carried but a boon that can carry us into a bright new future together,” he said.

In addition, one major aspect of Mayor Jim Suttle’s speech of Omaha, Neb., was the city’s recent efforts to develop a Transportation Master Plan in order to ensure the mobility of residents now and into the future.  “Transportation connects our community and we want to see policies providing choices in mobility to the citizens of Omaha.  The goal is to determine the most effective and efficient choices for moving people throughout our city,” he said.

Even smaller cities like Greenville, Miss., that rely heavily on investment from small businesses, realize the connection between infrastructure development and the ability to attract businesses and create jobs.  That is why Mayor Hudson declared that the city is working to deliver broadband internet throughout the city so that businesses are able to interact with suppliers and customers.  “We must be able to deliver the goods of our local businesses to the world that awaits and that is willing to buy,” she said.

Mayors attributed their infrastructure successes to the productive use of available sources of funding.  In Bowie, Md., Mayor Frederick Robinson declared that the city had been successful in obtaining almost $2 million in federal, state and foundation grants for capital projects.  And in West Palm Beach, Fla., Mayor Frankel stressed the importance of federal and state funding for infrastructure projects, which have in turn improved the lives of residents and created hundreds of jobs.

Cities are already seeing the positive economic effects of their infrastructure investments, and mayors have no plans to curtail infrastructure advances that will play a major role in local economic recovery.  Rather, cities like Bowie, Md. and Syracuse, N.Y., plan to be even more proactive about seeking federal funding to support city operations and work with their city councils to make the process for obtaining federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds more professional, transparent and results-oriented.

Echoing NLC’s recent call for continued CDBG funding at the local level, Joe Scarborough, the Tuesday afternoon general session speaker at the NLC Congressional City Conference put partisan politics aside for the session to voice his concern for the federal government’s apparent lack of concern for “domestic development,” as he termed it.  The emphasis on infrastructure investment in the 2011 State of the City speeches is on-the-ground evidence that this “domestic development,” and the resources required to fund it, are necessary prerequisites for local economic success.

Read about this project in more detail in The State of the Cities in 2011 and the most recent installment on economic development on CitiesSpeak.  Don’t forget to check back throughout the month of March for more discussion on the State of the Cities in 2011. Next up on March 21st: a look at the new era of regional collaboration.