2017 State of the City

Think about it!  The population in Mobile hasn’t grown in over 50 years! For years, the City had been losing the race, lagging behind our peer cities despite the fact that we had the talent to win. The city’s cheering section, which is its citizens, had grown quiet—until something changed. Slowly at first, Motivated Mobilians became more engaged and started creating momentum all across the city. One of those individuals is Lynn Oldshue who created a video which tells the story.

Metaphorically, when applied to sports teams, momentum means the team is on a roll – a winning streak. Building upon our past economic development successes and our downtown revitalization, today, we are a more exciting city, one that is on the pathway to its destiny.  We are becoming a fun city – a place with fun things for you and our visitors to do; a place with multiple great dining experiences. Visit Mobile will build upon this as it tees up to double the number of visitors to the city. Just as the momentum can shift in a sporting event based on one play, Mobile’s momentum started gaining speed as more Mobilians started engaging in improving our city, and as they started talking enthusiastically about the great things happening.

In the beginning only a handful believed that we could unite as One Mobile to become the safest, most business and family friendly City in America by 2020. Today there are tens of thousands, both in and outside of the city, who think we’re heading in the right direction.

Our Build Mobile team brainstorming with the Innovation Team.

To become business-friendly, we started cutting red tape three years ago, and we’re still cutting it.  Two years ago, we started the City’s first robust, proactive Supplier Diversity program. And last year, we established Build Mobile as a City department to lay the foundation to serve everyone who wants to do business, create jobs and grow Mobile.   The Build Mobile team has already made major strides, but those strides in improvement will become gigantic steps over the summer as we complete the implementation of the Tyler software system and launch an online permitting application process that will provide customers more accessibility and transparency.

Welcoming back the Carnival Fantasy.

These changes combined with many others have signaled to companies that Mobile is open for business.  Last year, Carnival made its triumphant return and is now making weekly excursions from Mobile, all of which are filled to capacity.   Airbus delivered its first plane made in Mobile to JetBlue and closed out 2016 by delivering its 17th plane – one more than their goal for the year.   To date we have announced that 19 aerospace suppliers have located at Brookley.

Commissioner Ludgood and I celebrating after the Walmart Distribution Center announcement.

Recently, Walmart announced that its sixth import distribution center would be built in Mobile.  In and of itself this is huge. However, after building a similar distribution center in Savanah, 52 other companies followed suit. Surely, it’s just a matter of time before others will be announced in Mobile.

Our focus on becoming a destination for IT-based entrepreneurship has not gone unnoticed. Late last year, the White House named Mobile a TechHire Community — a designation given to cities committed to connecting its citizens to well-paying tech jobs.  Mobile is only one of 72 communities across the United States to receive this prestigious designation. When combined with our Advanced Manufacturing Community Designation, we are one of only 16 cities in America which have both designations by the US Department of Commerce.

Just a couple weeks ago, we hosted a delegation of top technology executives from Silicon Valley including founders and chief executives representing Reddit, iCracked, Bellhop, Weebly, Arka, and Fuel Capital.  The outcome of their interested in Mobile is hard to predict, but they were blown away by what we are doing and by our hospitality.  More will surely follow.Innovation and technology are two of the key pillars in our plan to create high-paying jobs in Mobile.  In this pursuit, City government will continue to be a facilitator and convener and work vigorously to create a city where smart, talented young people want to live.  We will embrace the culture of innovation just as we have embraced advanced manufacturing.

Leading the Silicon Valley executives on a tour of Mobile.

To become family-friendly, we had to improve the quality of life in Mobile. With leadership from our Bloomberg Innovation Team, we began understanding the process of revitalizing our neighborhoods. Because of their work, Mobile achieved a 12 percent reduction of blight in 2016, which will ultimately result in safer neighborhoods and increased property values across the city.

Crews pouring concrete for new sidewalks.

Through collaboration with the City Council, we spent $21 million on fixing broken infrastructure and improving our parks.  Mothers and fathers can finally push baby strollers down smooth sidewalks, and youth finally have access to better and more recreational opportunities. Just last week, after 30 years of being a dream, we finally broke ground on the Mobile Greenway—the  next step towards creating a 12 mile biking and walking path which will connect Langan Park to Downtown Mobile and Mobile Bay.

Breaking ground on the Three Mile Creek Trail.

Additionally, last year, The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the City a $14.5 million Tiger grant that will connect to the Mobile Greenway and reconnect divided neighborhoods by creating bike and pedestrian lanes and landscaped medians. The initial design for this transformational, family friendly transportation project has begun.

The road to becoming the safest city has been the most challenging. After years of grossly underpaying our first responders, our police officers and firefighters finally received significant pay raises for their service.  Our officers are no longer driving worn out police cars. Our paramedics are driving new emergency sprint trucks and new ambulances.  And, our firefighters have safer, more modern gear plus new fire trucks.

We continue to transform our criminal justice system to ensure that we are punishing crime, not penalizing poverty. Our changes to Mobile’s Municipal Court system have been hailed by the Department of Justice as a model for the state and nation.

Announcing the Youth Empowered for Success initiative.

While the rise in teenage homicide is a national trend, we want Mobile to be the trendsetter that finally puts an end to these senseless tragedies. In January, we launched the YES Initiative – Youth Empowered for Success.  Our plan is to reverse the effects of violence and secure a bright future for all of our children.The YES initiative provides our most vulnerable youth access to available resources to assist in life and job skills training, and employment opportunities.  As this pilot program grows, we will reverse the trend of youth violence in Mobile and empower our youth to succeed in life.

Mobile continues to increase its momentum. Last Friday we announced a new Fire Chief.  On Monday, we announced a way for our police officers to spend more time on major crime issues.  Yesterday, we announced a partnership to connect our youth to jobs this summer in Gulf Shores.  Tomorrow, we will break ground on a new fire station in Crichton.   And on Friday, we will establish a new location for the 2nd Precinct bringing law enforcement closer to the community it serves in the Tillman’s Corner area.

Breaking ground on the new fire station.

It has been suggested that maybe we should rest on the 7th day.  Rest?? – maybe! but we will never stop thinking about or seeking ways to improve our city – every aspect of it and every part of it.

At the beginning of my remarks I asked you to think about it – to think about how Mobile has been for the last 50 years. No growth, but surrounded by growth. Now I ask you to think about the last 3 years and the momentum you have created.  I ask you to think about all that the City Council has accomplished. They care. They listen. Their hard work and your hard work combined with our collaboration with regional, state and national stakeholders and leaders has put Mobile right on the cusp of true transformation and growth. We’ll continue to take risks and try new things if it means a safer city; if it means more jobs; if it means a cleaner and greener Mobile.

Not only are we catching up with other cities, we are passing them. We are leading the pack in court reform, community policing, repairing infrastructure. The state of the city is sound and getting better. God willing and we live, we will eventually lead the state in job growth and population growth.  One Mobile will happen.

Joe Cain leading a second line on the new Celebration Trail.

Citizens aren’t just cheering us on anymore. They’re running with us – opening new businesses, mentoring and hiring youth and cleaning up our City. There are no try-outs to join Team Mobile. We have no plans to slow down. In fact, we’re picking up the pace. We have found strength in numbers, and as our momentum grows, so will our community.  As we do so, you will have opportunities that can’t even be envisioned. Your property values will increase, your businesses will grow, and your children will start moving back home because this is where they choose to live.

I don’t know if you picked up on the last lines of the video, but it said – “Mobile’s potential depends on you. Her potential depends on us. This city is ours and the best of us is still to come.”  Think about it! Let’s go get ‘em!