I had the honor to see Mayor Michael B. Coleman deliver his 15th State of the City Address in the Battelle Grand Ballroom at the Greater Columbus Convention Center last week. Mayor Coleman continues to work for and inspire Columbus to the be the best it can be. He began his speech by reflecting on the differences of today’s Columbus vs. Columbus 20 years ago. “Columbus has changed dramatically,” he stated. He touched on many of Columbus’s strengths and he also elaborated on many areas of needed improvements.
I want to recap Mayor Coleman’s remarks on a few important initiatives and investments that will be implemented this year, including:
1.) Early Start Columbus: A $5 million investment in quality preschool education.
Mayor Coleman stated, “We must prepare our residents for success. And the greatest threat to the success of Columbus is our failure to prepare our children for the future.”
He continued, “When our kids enter kindergarten prepared to learn, they are prepared for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, 34 percent of Columbus City Schools children enter kindergarten unprepared. And almost 60 percent of our third graders are not ready to pass the state’s third-grade reading guarantee. This requires them to repeat the third grade. Not only will this strain our resources, facilities and teachers. But by failing to read at the very basic third-grade level, these children will already be behind before they get started in life. Education must start early.”
2.) FastPath: A $1.5 million investment to help fill the skills gap of the unemployed and underemployed to fill available jobs.
The Mayor explained, “We are very successful in creating jobs. Since 2000, we have created about 40,000 jobs in Columbus. We don’t have a problem creating jobs, we have a problem filling jobs. Under FastPath, Columbus State will work with employers like Nationwide Children’s Hospital to identify employment needs and develop work-based training for our unemployed and underemployed.”
3.) BluePrint Columbus: A $2.5 billion, green initiative that will create jobs, train workers, develop business, transform neighborhoods and protect our environment.
“A big, new 2.5 billion dollar, with a “B”, 2.5 billion dollar, 30 year initiative called BluePrint Columbus. Now, BluePrint Columbus is an innovative sustainability program that builds parks and green space in neighborhoods while dealing with the massive sanitary sewer problem that has plagued Columbus for generations,” said Mayor Coleman.
He continued, “BluePrint Columbus will keep storm water from entering sewers in the first place. We will divert water away from sewers towards rain gardens and surface water filters. In order to accomplish this grand mission, we will convert the eyesore of blighted, vacant and abandoned land into new parks in neighborhoods across Columbus.”
4.) The Community Shelter Board will create the nation’s first case management system for Homelessness: A $1.1 million city investment.
“Despite our efforts, homelessness is becoming a bigger problem in Columbus, not smaller. We have more homeless today than at any time in our history. On any given day this winter, there are 1,200 homeless people in Columbus. And our shelters are so full that 150 more are left outside to fend for themselves. We must reduce homelessness in Columbus. But to do so requires us to embrace new strategies that have not been advanced by any community in the nation. The Community Shelter Board will create the nation’s first case management system of customized intensive individual care so that when someone shows up at the door of our shelters, they can know there is hope on the other side,” stated Mayor Coleman.
He elaborated, “These increased resources will do more than just warehouse folks with a cot and a hot meal. These resources will help our homeless find a job, find a place to live, address mental health or substance abuse issues, find transportation when needed and secure benefits when eligible. In other words, through individualized case management, we aim to put our homeless in a position to share in our city’s success.”
5.) Housing Works: An $11 million investment to help incentivize work force housing in and around Columbus job centers, including Downtown.
Mayor Coleman explained, “Today there are approximately 6,200 housing units built or in the pipeline Downtown. New restaurants are opening. Two grocery stores and a successful North Market give food shoppers a place to go. Employees live within a block or two of their jobs and retail is on its way. Lively street life, lively nightlife, lively neighborhoods. Even I moved Downtown.”
The Mayor continued, “About 82,000 people work Downtown today. It’s a diverse workforce ranging from CEOs of international corporations to street vendors. But Downtown living shouldn’t just be possible for CEOs. Others working Downtown should be able to live there, too.”
6.) Experience Columbus: An $8 million city investment into travel and tourism.
“The best way to share our city’s success is to bring more good jobs to Columbus. And when major sporting events and conventions land in Columbus, jobs follow. In fact, travel and tourism supports more than 61,000 jobs in Central Ohio,” stated Mayor Coleman.
The Mayor continued, “And we’re not done. We are going to pursue a major political convention in 2016. The Republican or Democratic National Convention would create an infusion of jobs, revenue and international recognition while injecting millions into our economy. And it would command the eyes of the world on the City of Columbus in a way that no other event could. We may not be successful. But by submitting a competitive bid, we are sending a message to the rest of the nation and the rest of the world that Columbus is ready for prime time.”
7.) Exploration of Port Columbus and its surrounding area for possible epicenter of regional transportation.
The Mayor elaborated, “Port Columbus is located in the center of the state. It is in the center of the economy for Ohio, the center of government for Ohio, the center for higher education for Ohio, and should be the gateway to Ohio for the rest of the nation. No longer should we view Port Columbus as our local airport. Port Columbus is Ohio’s airport. Direct flights are instrumental to our ability to recruit and expand businesses in Columbus. It is simple: direct flights mean direct investment in Columbus.”
“Just think about it. The airport is located between three major job centers and tourist destinations, Downtown, Easton and the Ohio State University. Yet neither our tourists nor our residents can take public mass transit to any of them from the airport. In fact, you cannot even take a bus directly from Port Columbus to Downtown without a transfer. Today, freight rail lines run from Downtown to the areas near the airport. Did you know that in the 1920s this same track brought people from New York and Washington D.C. to Columbus to catch a flight? So the question is: Can we connect our Downtown to our airport by passenger rail? That’s the question,” Mayor Coleman said.
8.) Restoration Academy expansion to serve 50 rehabilitated felons per year.
Mayor Coleman stated, “Sharing our success also means giving people a second chance in life after they have paid their dues to society. For someone carrying the weight of a felony conviction, it can feel hopeless. With few job offers and little hope for one, few employers will take a chance on convicted felons. They wear the mark of a criminal that cannot easily be erased. Many rehabilitated felons lose any legitimate skills they ever possessed while in prison, whether those skills were limited or substantial. And after spending years in prison, the world to which they’ve been released is foreign to them. With the deck stacked against them, they are faced with a difficult choice: to find a way to fit in or to throw in the towel by committing another crime.”
The Mayor further disclosed, “So, working with COWIC and our Civil Service Commission, we formed Restoration Academy, a small program with a big impact. Restoration Academy gives rehabilitated felons a chance to restore their lives and the community they violated through rigorous skill training, academic remediation and physical conditioning. Not everybody makes it. In the first two years, 24 out of 30 graduated from Restoration Academy, and 22 have found jobs. This year, we are increasing the size of the program from 15 people to 50.”
To conclude, Mayor Coleman said, “Columbus is a great city. We become an even greater city when we seize the opportunity and share our success with all our residents.”
Agreed and well done, Mayor. Looking forward to many, many bright years ahead.