Cities anticipate increased focus on jobs, revenues sources

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This is the third post in a series this week discussing different perspectives on the results of NLC’s 2013 Local Economic Conditions Survey.

Last week’s findings from National League of Cities’ Local Economic Conditions (LEC) Survey indicated that local economies have improved over the last year, but cities are still struggling in pivotal areas – notably with a workforce skills gap and tepid improvements in the commercial property market.

This year’s Local Economic Conditions survey included a new series of questions asking city officials about the policy areas that they anticipate focusing on in 2013. Although these findings were not included in our research brief on the LEC survey, they are important to examine for what they reveal about local officials’ priorities. These findings suggest that city officials will continue to focus on core areas of local government that protect the welfare and safety of residents while increasing their focus on areas that create new jobs and revenue.

Focus on welfare of community and citizens will remain steady

At the end of the day, local governments are the on the ground government responsible for protecting citizens safety and welfare.  In core areas like public safety (56%), education (59%), and environmental sustainability (58%), city officials anticipate “no change” in focus in 2013.

Further, with city officials reporting that unemployment (66%), median income level (57%), demand for survival services (56%) and workforce skills (53%) are a major/moderate problem for their cities, the majority of city officials anticipate their focus on services to vulnerable populations will remain steady in 2013.  Specifically, the majority of city officials anticipate no change in their focus on affordable housing (60%), safety net services (68%) and workforce/job training (58%).

 Increased focus on areas of job growth, revenue sources, and creating quality places

While focus on services remains steady, city officials anticipate increasing their focus in policy areas that strive to create jobs, new revenue and build quality places.

Percent of City Officials Anticipating Change in Policy Focus

Despite the recent less-then-stellar press about economic attraction/recruitment, this is still the bread and butter of city government, with 75% of city officials reporting that they anticipate increasing their focus on business attraction and recruitment in 2013. This should not come as much of a surprise, as the majority of city officials report that commercial vacancies (65%) and unemployment (66%) are major/moderate problems for their cities. Attracting tourism dollars is also on the agenda for the majority of city officials, with 57% anticipating an increased focus on tourism and entertainment in 2013.

The results from this new series of questions in the LEC survey also point to a balanced economic development approach focused not only on business attraction, but also on helping new companies start and grow, as well as retaining those companies that are already located in a city. Sixty-four percent and 61 percent of city officials report they anticipate increasing their focus on business retention and small business/entrepreneurship support, respectively, in 2013.

Responses suggest that city officials will also focus on creating places where people and businesses want to be.  Seventy-three percent of city officials report that they will be increasing their focus on downtown/commercial redevelopment, 62 percent will be increasing their focus on infrastructure and 57 percent anticipate increasing their focus on community and neighborhood development.

Mirrors State of the City Addresses

These results mirror the themes that mayors across the county have been presenting in their 2013 State of the City Addresses. According to NLC’s annual blog series on the topic, city officials are laying out bold visions in the areas of economic development, infrastructure, public safety, and education, like Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s neighborhood revitalization program, entrepreneurship efforts in Salt Lake City, Utah, infrastructure improvements in Beaverton, Oregon and a renewed focus on quality K-12 education in Columbus, Ohio.

Learn more about NLC’s Local Economic Development Survey.