2011 State of the City Address
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Corina and Jovanta, for that introduction. And thank you to the young artists at the Midway YMCA that created this beautiful skyline behind me.
Welcome to Jimmy Lee rec center where the future leaders of Saint Paul come to learn, play and grow into successful adults. As you can see from the video, our children have lots of hopes and ambitions.
It reminds me of a line from the movie Field of Dreams. Kevin Costner tracks Burt Lancaster to Chisholm, Minnesota. Lancaster asks Costner why he drove from Iowa to find him a half century after Lancaster missed his chance to hit just once in the major leagues.
Costner says “I think it’s to ask you, if you could do anything you wanted, if you could have one wish…” Lancaster replies “and you’re the kind of man that can grant that wish?”
We often ask our children if they could do anything they want, if they could have one wish, what would it be? But the more important question is this: Are we the kind of community that can grant that wish?
We believe ourselves to be that kind of community. And for many children, we are. But with one of the largest achievement gaps in the country, and with far too many children ill-prepared to take their place in a 21st century workforce, we must make our aspirations for our community a reality for our children.
Today, we are closer than ever before to delivering on the promise of Saint Paul to all children. We are better organized, more focused and engaged in unprecedented ways on behalf of our young learners. It is no accident.
Today, Saint Paul is strong because our partnerships are strong: Partnerships between the Mayor’s office and the city council, between the city and the school district, between government and businesses, between community organizations and funders, even partnerships between cities that formerly knew competition and now know cooperation.
Just one year ago, Corina and 11 other young men and women from Highland Park High School went to Glacier National Park. For many of them, it was the first time they had been outside the Twin Cities. For all of them, it was the first time that they had been to Glacier.
The intent was to take kids out of their normal comfort zone, expose them to the wilderness and help them realize how much they could accomplish when given the chance.
Upon seeing the Park, they were amazed at the clarity of the water; the intensity of the blue sky; the scale of the soaring peaks. They were also, if truth be told, more than a little frightened by the thought of grizzly bears.
The idea for the trip started with my personal experiences as a young man working in Glacier. It was ignited by the Ken Burns series on the National Parks that taught me that this fundamentally American concept – preservation of wilderness – was fundamental to the essence of what it means to be an American.
Mike Hahm, our director of Parks and Recreation, took over. He enlisted the aid of Wilderness Inquiry, the National Park Service and funding partners, including Louie Hill, whose great-grandfather, James J. Hill, was instrumental in the creation of the Park.
The experience of the Glacier project demonstrates what we know very well in Saint Paul – kids learn from a variety of experiences, in a variety of places, with all of us serving as teachers, mentors and guides. We must expand such opportunities to learn. But this can only be done through tapping into the incredible network of partners throughout the city.
Three weeks ago, over seventy community partners stood together to launch Sprockets, Saint Paul’s out-of-school- time network. With our children spending 80 percent of their time outside of school, parents need a convenient way to identify quality out-of-school opportunities for their children in their neighborhoods.
Sprockets is grounded in data about how children learn. Even the name is kid tested, kid approved. In addition to helping parents find activities for their children, it will allow us to measure how well these programs assist us in our efforts to close the achievement gap and prepare all children to succeed.
Just as the Glacier project was made possible through the power of partnership, so too was the launching of Sprockets. Hundreds of residents and dozens of providers sat through countless community meetings in order to inform our thinking.
But there has been no more important partner than Nan Skelton and the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College. Nan not only helped guide our work, but she truly believed in our mission and helped the Center become a vested partner in the success of Sprockets.
I want to thank Nan and the Center for all their efforts on behalf Saint Paul’s children.
I also want to thank our foundation partners that helped provide funding, Travelers, McKnight and W.K. Kellogg.
And I also need to signal out our own great staff, Kit Hadley, Kari Denissen and Jane Eastwood, who brought Sprockets to life.
In addition to Sprockets, our work continues on the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood.
The Promise Neighborhood work will transform our whole approach to education and community partnerships, starting with a 250 block area in the Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhood. It is rooted in the idea that kids learn best when their families are healthy and when there is stability at home and at school. The Promise Neighborhood will integrate in and out of school time with family and community support - from cradle-to-career.
Just last week, $30 million was set aside for Promise Neighborhoods nation-wide, signaling that it continues to be a priority of the Obama administration. I am confident that Saint Paul is in a strong position to receive further resources for our Promise Neighborhood. It is the power of our partnerships that instills me with such faith.
As Councilmember Melvin Carter can attest, we have an incredible team working on this. A team supporting more than 150 community members, providers, and experts – all focused on coming to the table and developing solutions together.
I want to thank May Kao Hang and Hamilton Bell, Paul Mattessich and Ronnie Brooks from Wilder; the always present Billy Collins who chairs our advisory board; Andrew Collins from the school district and Heather Worthington from Ramsey County who are working with City staff to figure out how to work more cooperatively.
I also want to thank Erica Schumacher from my staff who has kept this effort on track and fought to ensure that the voices of the community be heard throughout the process.
Let’s thank them for stepping up for our kids.
All of our efforts in this city directed towards closing the achievement gap and assuring that our children receive a world-class, 21st century education are dependent on world class, 21st century schools. We must have confidence that the 39,000 children in Saint Paul Public Schools have exceptional in-school instruction.
That is why the work that Superintendent Valeria Silva and our school board just completed is so important. Strong Schools, Strong Communities is not just a slogan. Nor is it just a strategic plan. Strong Schools, Strong Communities is a realignment of how our schools provide access and opportunity for a great education for every Saint Paul child.
I want to thank Superintendent Silva for recognizing the strength of community partnerships in the development of this key plan.
There was understandably a great deal of angst among parents whose children will be affected by the new structure. Change is difficult. But the status quo is unacceptable. We do no service to any of our children when we acknowledge the wide achievement gap but don’t undertake the dramatic systemic change to correct it.
If there is a distinct characteristic to our work on education, I believe it lies in the acceptance of responsibility rather than the imposition of blame. We do not point our fingers at teachers and say “you’re to blame.” We do not abandon our families and tell them “it’s your fault.” Rather, we gather together and ask “what is it going to take to get the job done.” We know that there are many parts to this education puzzle.
I have come to believe that perhaps the most important educational decision in America today is who has the parking spot closest to the front door of our schools.
Strong schools are not possible without exceptional principals. There is a direct link between effective school leadership and higher student achievement. That is why I am so pleased that, as part of the Superintendents work, there is a bold plan to build and improve leadership at all levels in the district. The Saint Paul Public School’s Leadership Development Initiative recognizes that schools need principals who are not only strong instructional leaders but who can manage change, building strong teams, and engage staff, families and the community in creating a positive climate for learning.
Patrick Bryan and Andrew Collins, both of whom were well known for their strong leadership when they were principals, are leading this effort. Traveler’s Foundation is helping support it. Let’s join in supporting this important effort.
For all of this work, Saint Paul is known nationally as an education city. Let us be proud of that. But let us declare today that every child in that video and in this city will achieve their full potential. We are truly a community that can make these dreams come true.
Even in the Central Corridor, education will be at the core of our mission. A strong transit system will allow children to get from their school to an afterschool program, downtown for an internship, or, after graduating from high school, to one of the many colleges or universities connected to the corridor.
We know that the advent of light rail creates many worries among our friends and families, home owners and business owners, along the corridor. That is why the deep partnerships that have been formed over these last several years have been so important. With construction underway, our efforts to strengthen partnerships to ensure success are more important than ever.
Just last week we stood with the Metropolitan Council to showcase more than $10 million dollars to assist businesses impacted during construction. These funds include $4 million in forgivable loans to help small businesses prepare for construction and remain financially stable. Another $2 million will go toward improving off-street parking along University.
Supporting our businesses will be critical during construction. This mitigation fund was made possible by the Metropolitan Council, Living Cities, the City of Saint Paul, the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative and a number of other foundations. And while we thank our funding partners, there is something that each one of us can do to help our businesses along the corridor.
I encourage everyone to pick up their free Discover Central Corridor Perks Card. This great program connects residents to daily deals at over 50 businesses along University and Washington Avenues.
Much of our work to make the corridor a success has been led by Nancy Homans. I want to thank her for her efforts, her patience and her dedication to our City.
After thirty years of discussion, on April 26, next week, the full funding grant agreement will be signed. While that will be an incredible day to celebrate, we should also note a more interesting fact. As of February 28, 11.9% of the corridor construction has already been completed. Who says we Saint Paulites aren’t over-achievers?
Saint Paul continues to be a place of opportunity for all. And recent efforts have strengthened that fact.
For three years, the EMS Academy has provided low income residents with a pathway into the medical field.
Residents like Donnell Gibson.
Donnell was sent to live with his grandmother during middle school after his father went to jail. When his grandmother passed away, Donnell spent the next few years moving between more than a dozen foster homes.
By the end of his senior year, Donnell had no permanent home and was sleeping on different couches each night.
With the birth of his son, Donnell Jr., that same year, Donnell wanted to provide his child the stability he had not known.
He became the first in his family to graduate from high school. Through the support of teachers and mentors, Donnell found the EMS Academy.
Donnell is now a certified EMT, working full time in the city Parks and Recreation department and part time driving a patient transport van for Allina.
His dedication toward giving back to our community can be seen in his interactions with kids right here at Jimmy Lee as well as those he has mentored through our Youth in Transition program on the East Side.
There are thousands of kids in Saint Paul today who are facing some of the same obstacles Donnell did. Donnell, you are an excellent role model for those kids, for your kids, and for us all. Please stand and be recognized. Thank you for being here.
We will soon have more stories like Donnell’s through our Road to Success program. This effort that will help low-income residents obtain a commercial drivers license. This will open the door to many well-paying jobs along the Central Corridor or even for the city of Saint Paul.
The EMS Academy and the Road to Success program are examples of how, through education and partnership, we can tackle some of our most difficult challenges. They came to life through the creative work of Luz Maria Frias, our Director of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity. Let’s thank Luz for her leadership.
Education and partnership also guides our work on sustainability. From the Energy Innovation Corridor that will maximize the use of new, efficient technologies along Central Corridor to the new solar panels atop the Rivercentre complex – we are fortunate to have Xcel, District Energy and many other partners who have come to the table to get these efforts going.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis visited Viking Drill & Tool Company. She witnessed first hand the innovative energy approaches this company has recently taken. These changes not only make the company greener, they make it leaner, saving nearly $100,000 through energy conservation. In turn, these saving are being reinvested into the company, creating more jobs in Saint Paul. Because they have made these changes, they are now working the Saint Paul Port Authority to transform a brownfield and build a 35,000 square foot expansion on the West Side.
Much of this work has been led by Anne Hunt, our sustainability coordinator. She has brought the partners to the table, chased funding streams and put Saint Paul on the map as one of the leaders on green jobs creation.
There is an unprecedented level of partnership across this region changing how we do economic development in the Twin Cities. These efforts are geared towards one thing: creating jobs.
For too long, our region has pitted city against city, East Metro versus West Metro. We have focused resources on luring a business from one city to another. Unfortunately, while we viewed our competition as Minneapolis, or Eden Prairie, our real competition, Austin, Texas, Seattle, Silicon Valley and Boston, realized that they were in a battle with Singapore, Beijing, or Sao Paulo. How we see our competition is about to change.
In the last year, several major initiatives have been launched, partnerships formed and organizations restructured to make our region among the most competitive region in the world. In addition to the green jobs initiative, we have the following efforts underway:
• The Regional Economic Development Partnership (REDP) is a private-public initiative that will integrate the activities of forty regional economic-development organizations to provide a more effective model for recruiting, retaining, and creating jobs in the region.
• The Metropolitan Business Plan is focused on an entrepreneurial accelerator that will help rekindle the innovative spirit that led to the start of so many of our Fortune 500 companies.
• The Regional Council of Mayors cluster strategy will help us focus on what we already do well and help us do it even better.
In addition, we have also restructured the work of the Capital City Partnership to be singularly focused on economic development, retaining, expanding and attracting jobs to Saint Paul.
These efforts are regional in scope. But it is equally important that the interests of Saint Paul be well represented.
Guarding the point throughout has been our Planning and Economic Development Director Cecile Bedor. She has fought to make sure that the protocol that guides our work allows Saint Paul to compete on a level playing field. Growing the pie is important, making sure that Saint Paul gets its share is critical.
It is beyond question that there is a new vitality in downtown. Bulldog, Barrio, Bin, and Blacksheep restaurants have added much to downtown. Lest you think that we only have B’s in our lexicon, Faces and Heartland keep Mears Park hopping while on the other end of downtown, the Grill, Sakura, Pazzaluna, Kincaids and an expanded Meritage keep the pulse going around Rice Park.
Now when companies look at Saint Paul they see a thriving downtown, the beauty of our parks, the sounds of a growing music scene anchored by our jazz festival as well as world-class attractions like the Xcel Energy Center home to the Minnesota Wild and the incredible energy that comes from the Ordway, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Minnesota Opera Company.
The addition of a new regional ballpark will only add to that vitality and we are committed to getting it built.
When I look at the opportunities before us, I am excited for the future of our City. But I also see a very real threat to our efforts at the State Capitol. Proposals to dismantle local government aid, remove critical funding from our schools and decimate our transportation network are as real as they are short-sighted.
I am cognizant of the budget challenges that the State faces. Coming out of the worst recession since the 1930’s, Minnesota is struggling to overcome a nearly $5 billion deficit. No one can honestly suggest that there are simple solutions.
But there are wrong solutions. And no proposals are more misguided than those that take aim at the heart of the three largest cities in the state, including Saint Paul.
By what logic could one possibly determine that the best way to make Minnesota strong is to destroy its most vital cities? What philosophy could possibly lead one to the conclusion that taking money away from the public schools of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and giving more money to children in other communities is either fair or far sighted?
The blatant political nature of the attacks against us would be laughable were they not so dangerous.
It also flies in the face of the incredible work we have done in Saint Paul over the last several years.
In Saint Paul, we have balanced our budget with a balanced approach.
We’ve put public safety first and continue to make Saint Paul one of the safest cities in the country.
We have aligned educational resources in unprecedented ways on behalf of all children in Saint Paul.
I want to thank Governor Dayton for supporting our City. But we cannot simply rely on his veto pen.
The future greatness of our community depends on how well we educate our children. I will not stand silent in the face of attacks on our efforts to close the achievement gap.
We are reshaping how we do economic development in this region. We cannot go backwards in our efforts to make the Twin Cities competitive in a global economy.
Saint Paul stands strong today and the state of the City is sound. The promises that we have made to our children, to our families and to all residents are solidly rooted in great partnerships and an understanding of our common destiny. Our City is at a time of great change. But that is not new to us. That is our history. It is our future. The question before us is whether we will rise to meet the challenges of this new century.
Look around this room. Look at the partnerships we have formed. Look at our commitment to our children and to a bright future for each one of them.
There can be no doubt that we in Saint Paul will live up to our promise.