Minneapolis mayor emphasizes economic development.
In his State of the City address Wednesday, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak suggested looking to the past to guide the present and future. Minneapolis grew and prospered as an international milling center because its leaders recognized the importance of encouraging innovation, training a diverse workforce and connecting to the regional and global economies.
As the city celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, those same strategies apply. Investing in people and laying the foundation for good jobs are hallmarks of good government. The economic growth and opportunity theme was a smart focus for Rybak's seventh Minneapolis report card.
Fostering economic growth is a major challenge during an economic downturn when home foreclosures are rising, new construction is stalled and many companies are downsizing.
However, as Rybak rightly points out, failure to lay the groundwork for economic progress can make those problems worse. The city cannot simply lament the times. It must marshal its resources and build partnerships that will bolster the city's economy.
With an eye toward the future, Rybak's growth strategy wisely continues a focus on two areas -- investing in people and in what he calls "the common ground.'' The first involves making sure that citizens are well trained, educated and prepared to take good jobs. The city has spent nearly $7 million over the past four years on job training, and slightly more than 17,000 previously unemployed residents who participated in those programs are now working.
In addition, the city is working with the public schools to improve graduation rates and find more summer jobs and college opportunities for young people. With the help of the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Community and Technical College, more than 700 lower-income students are attending postsecondary schools for free. That will prepare them for good jobs in health care and other growing sectors of the city's economy.
Part two of the Minneapolis strategy involves creating an atmosphere in which job-creating enterprises can thrive. In that arena, the city will support small businesses, encourage innovation in green and other technologies, expand transportation options and work to improve public safety.
Rybak offered a good example of why such investments matter. After the Interstate 35W bridge fell last year, the city and its emergency managers were universally praised for their swift, well-coordinated response. That response was possible only because the city, county and other units of government invested in the training, equipment and infrastructure needed for such emergencies.
As the number of well-educated, gainfully employed residents rises, societal problems such as poverty and crime can be addressed. That's why the mayor's focus on economic development and investing in the future of Minneapolis and its people is the right strategy for the times.
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