A National League of Cities (NLC) report has found mayors across the U.S. are most concerned with issues around economic development and infrastructure, as well as with budget and management.
The report, entitled "State of the Cities 2018," surveyed 160 speeches given by mayors — typically an annual “State of the City” speech laying out achievements, challenges and plans for the upcoming year — between January and April 2018.
And of those surveyed for the report’s fifth annual release, economic development was a top issue with 58% of speeches spending significant time covering the topic. In a speech during an event unveiling the report in Washington, DC on Wednesday morning, NLC Director of Research Christiana McFarland said mayors have a "general positive sentiment and hopeful vibe" on economic development.
She said they emphasize areas such as revitalizing downtown, innovation districts and using new technology, and while they are always hopeful of landing a big company like Amazon’s HQ2, they also look to promote workforce development and small business jobs. In a panel discussion at the event, Memphis, TN Mayor Jim Strickland said that includes looking to help existing businesses. "We’re always going to shoot for the big business with 1,000 new jobs," he said. "But wouldn't it be great if we got 800 businesses to add two new jobs each?"
Infrastructure also clearly is weighing heavily on mayors, with the report finding that 56% of speeches discussed it significantly, with roads being one of the major priorities along with water and pedestrian infrastructure. NLC’s research found that talk of public transportation is increased in larger cities and is cast in terms of helping unite disparate parts of the community and help support job opportunities.
At the same time, mayors are worried they do not have adequate partners in their state houses and at the federal level. In his "State of the City" speech, cited by the NLC report, Little Rock, AR Mayor Mark Stodola said "cities have turned to the federal government asking for a true partner," but that has been lacking as President Trump’s infrastructure plan has failed to gain traction in Congress.
Inter-governmental relations between cities and their counterparts at other levels of government have taken on more importance to mayors this year, the NLC found, with some concerns about state overreach coupled with a lack of funds available from states filtering down to the local level.
Mayors also are concerned about housing, public safety, health and human services, education, the environment, data and technology and demographics, according to the rest of the NLC’s report. Parks and recreation is one area that has found significant overlap in those remaining major topics, with more investment in such facilities to give young people structure and discourage crime and other bad behaviors through activating parks.
And while Lawrence, MA Mayor Daniel Rivera said cities are not in "a normal set of circumstances in which we’re governing today," Strickland emphasized that it is better for mayors not to worry themselves about partisan politics and instead focus on everyday issues that affect their constituents. "I think the people elected me to solve their problems," he said.