2013 State of the City Address
Good Evening. Thank you all for coming.
Together, we have laid the foundation for meaningful work to come. We have proven to ourselves we can compete and we can win. The next few years will be about how we seize opportunity. Now is the time to use the positive momentum of our successes to push forward – reach upward. Tonight I want to share my ideas for using this rising tide to lift all citizens.
Our challenge is to empower people to create, think, and work. I believe most people are proud to work. This is the reason I see Economic Development as the number #1 priority for securing a greater share of the future for Pensacola.
Work is powerful. A great job brings self-respect, self-reliance, service, and a stronger sense of community. Optimism goes hand in hand with great jobs. You are going to hear a lot about optimism tonight. Together, we can do a great deal to provide the foundation for Economic Development. From the Office of the Mayor, we will drive our resources – our time, our talent, our influence, our relationships, and our expertise toward Economic Development. Supporting job creation and job creators in our targeted industries, ensuring we get back our share of the tax dollars we send to Tallahassee and Washington, promoting workforce education in our targeted industries, pushing transparent streamlined business processes, maximizing existing city assets and exploiting Pensacola International Airport as an Economic Development engine, reducing crime, and taking our shared prosperity West is the underpinning for Economic Development. If we work together and focus our efforts across these dimensions, we will create a city where everyone has an opportunity to be successful. Everyone will have optimism. Each of these components individually is important, but when you bring them together, you create strength – synergy – upward momentum.
An essential element of successful economic growth is a collaborative spirit across our entire region. The 16 counties of Northwest Florida making up our region must work together to compete for business growth and jobs. We have 3 deep water seaports, the I-10 corridor connecting the Southeast, 4 great airport facilities, rail connections to CSX, and a unique concentration of military bases encompassing all branches of Service. We share common interests and common potential for future prosperity.
We’re targeting the same industries – Advanced Manufacturing, Information Technology/Security, Aviation/Aerospace, Maritime Repair, Healthcare, and Financial Services. Rather than focusing on individual cities and counties, we should think regionally. If a business locates in Escambia County and creates jobs for people in the City of Pensacola or vice versa, we all share in that win. You know what I call someone who lives in a neighboring county and comes to eat downtown? I call that person a customer!
We should encourage government and business to partner across the region to promote the development of a capable workforce and solid infrastructure. When we cooperate and leverage our assets as a region, we are stronger.
Navy Federal Credit Union is a great example of everyone working together to create an enormous win. Navy Federal Credit Union, thank you for believing in Pensacola. Thank you for the jobs. Thank you for the optimism you create in our community.
It is critical to our future that we get back our share of tax dollars we send to Tallahassee and Washington. I have worked tirelessly to build relationships in Tallahassee and in Washington, and no one has worked harder to put those dollars to work right here at home. These monies pay for infrastructure and improvements, helping us make major upgrades but keeping us from raising local taxes. The more amenities our town has, the more attractive it will be to existing business, new talent, and more visitors. Not to mention, the more it adds to our own amazing quality of life. Our Port, our Airport, our Hatchery, our Shoreline Project, demolition of the dilapidated Blount School, completion of Admiral Mason Park, beautification of Bayfront Parkway, and the list goes on and on – over $40 million dollars in projects - all from our share of available state and federal dollars. The more we grow, the more tax dollars we send to Tallahassee and Washington. While we want to push our state and nation for sound fiscal policy, like we have in Pensacola, I commit to put our share of that money to work right here at home.
In a world with rapidly changing technology, Pensacola must ensure that we have the talent needed to strengthen the competitiveness of our workforce - attract quality companies and higher paying jobs. This is the reason we want to focus on Workforce Education.
Here is what we know: Our region is targeting specific industries. We know we have excellent probability of attracting Advanced Manufacturing, Information Technology/Security, Aviation/Aerospace, Maritime Maintenance, Healthcare, and Financial Services. We know the majority of high paying jobs in our region will be in these industries. If we have the largest and most highly qualified workforce in these industries, business in these industries will flock to us. Business follows talent.
Our Chamber is doing great work. They have commissioned a Gap Analysis for our community from the Haas Center. This is a terrific idea. This valuable data will tell us where we are in terms of our current workforce’s skills. It will define the skills our workforce needs to be competitive in our targeted industries and provide a blueprint for the skills needed to bridge the gap. We can focus our education and training toward jobs we want.
Putting science on this problem lets us target the right education and training to help people get jobs - putting more people to work – giving more people optimism.
We do not want to diminish the value of a four year college degree, but it is not the only path to a successful career. Our Chamber, Workforce Escarosa, our Universities, and George Stone Technical Center all stand ready to help us offer education and training with good jobs waiting at the finish line. Imagine knowing up front, if you study machining or nursing, there will be a high paying job waiting for you. If you get a degree in Computer Science, there will be employers competing to hire you. Optimism.
Matching education and training with our targeted industries just makes good sense. There are funds from BP and state dollars to help pay for Workforce Education. I pledge to push Workforce Education forward by collaborating with businesses, The Chamber, Community- County and State agencies- and Educational Facilities to implement training that puts our citizens to work. I pledge to support Workforce Education and to work diligently to recruit employers and jobs in these targeted industries.
Our government’s business processes must be transparent and ensure everyone has an opportunity to compete on a fair and level playing field. My job is creating prosperity for everyone. We can’t grow and bring new opportunities to our community if we remain a closed system. We want our existing businesses to thrive and we want to bring new business and new jobs to Pensacola. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Healthy competition is a positive thing. It brings forth risk takers and innovators. We have a new generation of entrepreneurs – young people who have lived across the nation and are bringing their ideas home – home to create- building a new creative class of young people who just want the door thrown open to them to give them a chance. We want to encourage these entrepreneurs. When people choose our community, they bring their talent and resources with them. They become a part of the fabric of our community. They become local. I can think of a couple that adopted our community. They have become one of the greatest investors and philanthropists this community has ever known. I want to acknowledge these fine people tonight. Thank you, Quint and Rishy Studer. Thank you for choosing to make Pensacola your home.
Our government’s business processes must present a level playing field and must be blind to favoritism, sentiment, and status. We must protect and honor the level playing field our processes establish. There is optimism in fairness.
The City of Pensacola has incredible assets. Pensacola International Airport is the City’s greatest Economic Development engine. Site Selection Certification is in process.
This qualifies us for consideration by decision makers in our targeted industries. The Airport Commerce Park is ramping up. This expansion allows for Aerospace industries to relocate, expand or establish their operations into our airport. This will also attract MRO’s, companies performing maintenance, repair, and overhaul of aircrafts emphasizing businesses in our targeted industries with high paying jobs. This requires operating our airport as a well-honed business. We have delved into airport operations, sharpened our pencils, and lowered expenses. We have competitively bid out expiring service contracts saving hundreds of thousands of dollars. We are now turning our focus to increasing non- airline revenues. Remember, every dollar we make at the airport is a dollar less Pensacola International Airport has to charge airlines, who then charge the customer. There is a dollar for dollar relationship. This is of enormous importance as we compete for more air routes into the City and for international carriers. We have room to grow with our airport. We are thrilled to have Southwest Airlines’ First Inaugural Flight scheduled for November 3rd this year. Southwest’s presence expands Pensacola International Airport’s routes through Houston and Nashville, making Pensacola more accessible to business and tourists across the nation. Optimism.
The City has been able to partner with Escambia County as well as an independent utility authority to transfer over 100 vehicles from diesel to compressed natural gas, a fuel that is cheaper, cleaner, and most importantly, produced right here in America. Through this partnership, we’ve built two CNG fueling stations – with a third that will be completed this December. We’ll eventually open up to corporate fleets and private vehicles. This gives us a competitive edge in recruiting business and bringing more jobs.
We must take our shared prosperity West. The West Side of our City should have just as many beautification projects as the other parts of our City. In the next two months, the City will open two new state of the art community centers, Woodland Heights and Legion Field. In addition to this investment, we will awaken The Westside Redevelopment Plan. More landscaping, sidewalks, street lights, and traffic calmers will be added to the West Side. Retail and amenities follow rooftops. Our rooftops and surroundings on the West Side have been too long neglected. I will work with businesses, community agencies, and developers to encourage development of affordable, quality housing on vacant lots as well as to revitalize existing homes. I need the voice and wisdom of the whole community. Inclusion of members from the West Side on our City Boards is so important. These Boards influence policy and give me invaluable advice. Our City will be offering workshops and working with local media to get the word out when City Board positions become available. The surest way upward is for all of us to grow together.
You heard me talk about how to bring economic optimism to all our citizens. But optimism is bigger than just jobs. Optimism can only happen when people have safe neighborhoods and peace of mind that security brings. Everyone has the right to feel safe at home. We have worked with Chief Simmons on solutions to address crime. Together, and through enforcement partnerships, we have made some headway. Our police department has partnered with local, state, and federal agencies on an illegal gun task force designed to improve our investigative capabilities. Over 175 arrests have been made and over 350 illegal guns have been recovered. Additionally, the use of data based intelligence has enabled our officers to target areas and individuals responsible for violent crimes. Our efforts have resulted in a 14% reduction in non-violent crime and a 12% reduction in violent crime this year compared to 2012. We have also seen a 40% reduction in residential burglaries during this same time frame. We will not allow crime to keep our community hostage. This is not an insurmountable problem. It can be overcome. We need to be cautious about negativity. Negativity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We don’t want to sweep the crime conversation under the carpet, but our community needs to hear more about the successful people living and working on our West Side.
The City will be instituting a round table to address violence. We will engage in open and frank dialogue and look for ideas and strategies that can create a clear direction for the future. We must have everyone at the table – city government, county government, law enforcement, the school district, business leaders, neighborhood associations, ministers, and residents. There is no silver bullet, but I am willing to start this difficult conversation. One thing is sure - our community is going to have to take ownership of our safety – we are going to have to do this together.
Across this country, corporate America, our Military, and Manufacturing are challenged to deliver key services with fewer resources and fewer people. Government has had to do the same. Since my time in office, our City budget has been reduced by nearly $30,000,000. My first year in office, we made a lot of changes to streamline the city government and run it more like a business. We consolidated departments, cut the number of high paid department heads, and reduced the number of City employees. I passed those savings on to citizens by cutting the property tax millage rate by 5½ percent. We also implemented an Employee Award of Excellence Program, a new incentive program to encourage employees to be creative and to find new efficiencies and cost savings.
When I took office, Pensacola was facing a lot of challenges. Pension costs had gotten way out of control. What we owed in future pension payments had grown to more than a hundred million dollars and the City was spending more on pensions each year than it collected in ad valorem taxes. We hear stories every day about cities going bankrupt and missing pension payments because their pension payments were too high. Last year, we were able to accomplish landmark pension reform through new deals with two of the City’s employee unions. These deals will save the City nearly 15 million dollars in future pension costs and have put the City on track to get out of the pension business altogether.
My time in office has been an incredible learning experience. I’ve grown as a leader and a public servant. Tonight, I redouble my commitment to you. I will relentlessly pursue Economic Development by supporting job creation and job creators in our targeted industries, ensuring we get back our share of the tax dollars we send to Tallahassee and Washington, promoting Workforce Education in our targeted industries, pushing transparent streamlined business processes, maximizing existing city assets and exploiting Pensacola International Airport as an Economic Development engine, reducing crime, and taking our shared prosperity West.
We will move forward with respect for each other and a shared vision of prosperity and safety for all our citizens. Optimism will take us upward. Goodnight and God bless Pensacola.