In Mayor R.T. Rybak’s 2009 State of the City address, he reiterated that public safety was the city’s number one goal, but his speech was about jobs, jobs, jobs.
The mayor spent about 90 seconds of his 45-minute speech talking about the city’s recent drop in violent crime and its $210 million public safety budget. The rest of the speech focused on economic development and what he called his “Opportunity Agenda.”
“People are hurting out there, and for them we have to be aggressive and bring urgency to our work,” Rybak said.
Rybak said the agenda would invest in people, promote homegrown businesses, reach globally and build strong partnerships. What it had in vision it lacked in financial specifics. Asked after the speech if there was a budget for the Opportunity Agenda, mayoral spokesman Jeremy Hanson said there was no dollar amount. “We haven’t added them up yet.”
Rybak announced he would convene an economic roundtable of business, labor, education and civic leaders to help define the Opportunity Agenda. Bill George, former chief executive of Medtronic, and Mike Sweeney, managing partner of Goldner Hawn, a private equity firm, would lead the effort.
A string of initiatives
Rybak’s speech included a laundry list of projects he has worked on for the past two terms or efforts he plans to launch soon. He touted the expansion of the STEP-UP youth summer jobs program and the new high school career centers. He recalled loans that helped the new Seward Coop and Juxtaposition Arts. He reminded listeners of efforts at reorganization and consolidation, of city development efforts and the local jobs created by recent projects, such as Midtown Exchange and the Children’s Hospital expansion.
Among the facts salted in the speech was this surprising nugget: The metro area accounts for 22 percent of the entire national output for biomedical devices. Local hospitals also are a large source of jobs. To deepen Minneapolis’ health care role, Rybak said the city and MCTC have launched HealthForce, an effort to coordinate job training with job openings for health care employers. (It builds on earlier efforts started by the Phillips Partnership to create a pipeline of trained workers for hospitals.)
The mayor announced the creation of a new Green Jobs Institute, with Dunwoody Institute, the Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) and Summit Academy. The project will provide job training for some of the green jobs that will get a boost from the federal stimulus package.
Rybak said the city’s unemployment rate was lower than the metro area, the state or national average.
Still, the city has a relatively small pot of money to promote development. The question for Rybak’s Opportunity Agenda will be whether the city’s policies and individual jobs programs can be a major driver in local employment trends, or whether they are dwarfed compared to state, national and global economics.
Home and Abroad
Rybak struck dual themes of home grown jobs and promoting international commerce.
The mayor announced he would travel to China this year to speak at the International Forum on Development of High-Tech Enterprises.
He also pointed out that Austin, Texas has city staff working in seven different countries to expand business opportunities. “Minneapolis has zero,” he said. “It’s time that we stepped up to take a more central role on the global stage.” (The speech made no specific mention of opening offices abroad.)
Rybak also promoted the city’s new Home Grown Minneapolis initiative, an effort to develop recommendations for Minneapolis “to improve sales, distribution and consumption of fresh, locally grown foods to positively impact the health, food security, economy and environment of our City and the surrounding region.”
A work group of 110 residents, business owners, farmers and environmentalists have been reviewing ways to boost the local food economy by working with farmers markets, community and backyard gardens and commercial use of locally grown foods. Their recommendations are expected this spring.
Scott Russell is a journalist. He wrote for the Southwest Journal and Skyway News (now the Downtown Journal) in Minneapolis from 1999-2005. He also wrote for The Capital Times, a Madison Wisconsin daily, from 1993-1999.