Commissioners, elected officials, distinguished guests and fellow residents here and those watching on TV or the web.
I report on the State of the City in a time of extraordinary change and unprecedented challenge… for our country… for our state… and for our community.
When I spend time with our residents and business owners, it’s clear, that while this economic crisis is global in scale, its effects are being felt at kitchen tables and cash registers throughout our City.
Now it’s up to us to confront and overcome this crisis.
We must do everything we can to ensure our City comes out of this recession stronger and remains on course to fulfill our vision as the next great American city.
The task at hand is not easy.
There are no quick fixes.
We don’t know if it’s going to get worse… before it gets better.
This is the unknown.
What we do know is:
- We cannot sit back and simply rely on the federal government for help.
- Because of our extraordinary progress over the last six years, we are in a better position to forge ahead when our national economy rebounds.
Recognitions and Taking Stock of Orlando's Strength
Before I lay out our course of action, I want to recognize some of the people who have helped reshape our community since I took office.
I also want to celebrate areas where we have advanced, despite the economy.
Let’s start with our City Council. Commissioners, it is my honor to serve our residents with you.
Please stand and be recognized.
Commissioner Phil Diamond… District 1
Commissioner Tony Ortiz… District 2
Commissioner Robert F. Stuart… District 3
Commissioner Patty Sheehan… District 4
Commissioner Daisy Lynum… District 5
Commissioner Samuel B. Ings… District 6
Any other elected officials, please stand and let us say thank you.
It’s also an honor to have former Mayor Bill Frederick with us.
To our dedicated City staff – thank you for making customer service a priority every day.
To Chief Demings and Chief Reynolds and the men and women of the Orlando Police and Fire Departments… thank you for keeping our neighborhoods safe.
My friend and partner Mayor Richard Crotty is here with members of the Orange County Board of Commissioners … they have helped usher in a new era of collaboration in Central Florida.
My wife Karen and our two sons could not be here.
But, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank them for their love and support.
Later today, I have the honor of helping to break ground on the Nemours Children’s Hospital at Lake Nona in Commissioner Diamond’s district.
Nemours is one of the cornerstones of our Medical City along with The Burnham Institute for Medical Research’s East Coast Campus, the University of Central Florida’s new College of Medicine and Health Sciences Campus; an Orlando Veteran Affairs Medical Center, the M.D. Anderson Orlando Cancer Research Institute and a University of Florida Research Center.
Beyond the obvious medical benefit, our investment in this project will create more than 10-thousand jobs and provide a billion and a half dollars in economic impact in the next five years.
Our Medical City has been nationally identified as a top reason Orlando is listed as a “Great City for Salary Growth.”
Guided by our established hospitals, Orlando Health and Florida Hospital, our healthcare industry is a growing economic force.
A regional planning commission report noted that Florida Hospital’s Health Village is expected to create 18-thousand new jobs.
On the south end of downtown, Orlando Health’s expansion is reshaping an entire neighborhood in partnership with our SODO project.
Orlando Health’s total impact is now almost 4 billion dollars a year.
- Our high-tech base and commitment to creating next-generation jobs is also garnering national attention.
We rank fourth in Forbes magazine’s list of “Most Wired Cities”
Two exciting new digital media companies, IDEAS and 360-ED will soon join our existing partners, the UCF Center for Emerging Media and the House of Moves downtown as we begin to plan for our “Creative Village.”
Dr. Hitt, thank you for your leadership in this critical area.
- Our airport also continues to be a base for economic prosperity – ranking as the 10th busiest in the nation and 20th busiest in the world.
And Orlando’s international travel numbers are up almost 17 percent with recently added service to Columbia, Mexico, Brazil, and Costa Rica…
A sign of the economic power of our ever-growing Hispanic community.
- Quality of life has made us the envy of the nation.
A new study by the Pew Research Center ranked Orlando fourth on its list of “Cities where people want to live.”
- In little more than a year, our GreenWorks Orlando program has helped make sustainability a community priority.
Our utility, OUC opened its new headquarters, the greenest building downtown.
We also opened five LEED-certified fire stations - most recently station seven in Commissioner Ings’ district.
- We’ve continued to focus on children.
Through our Parramore Kidz Zone, we have taken dramatic action to extend aid, education and opportunity to our City’s at-risk youth.
And, we are seeing equally dramatic results.
In 2006 there were 96 kids arrested in the one square mile neighborhood of Parramore.
Last year – only 51.
That’s a 47 percent decline in juvenile arrests.
That’s kids whose lives have been saved… who have been turned away from that irreversible path of crime.
State test scores for students enrolled in PKZ are also up.
And 7 out of 10 kids in our After School All Stars program have increased their overall GPA over the last two years.
The work to better the lives of our young people is made possible because of the generosity of our residents and business partners giving their time, talent and resources.
The Plan: Strengthen Orlando
Yes, Orlando is strong.
But, we must be stronger – because we don’t know what lies ahead.
Today, I am calling on every elected leader, every business, every civic organization, and every resident to join me as we work to… Strengthen Orlando.
Strengthen Orlando… is our comprehensive plan to help our families and businesses “weather the storm.”
I have directed every City department and our public and private sector partners to identify activities that will help create jobs, provide economic stimulus, connect our residents with vital resources and information… and ensure Orlando remains on track for a prosperous future.
Strengthen Orlando is not just part of the President’s Economic Recovery Plan.
It is a uniquely local strategy designed to work alongside the federal effort.
Strengthen Orlando has six key points of action.
Orlando Connects is the first pillar.
More and more Americans are findings themselves in the unfamiliar position of having to ask for help.
We don’t have all the resources in-house to help everyone who might need assistance.
That’s not the way a local government works.
But, there is no better entity at leveraging and collaborating to link residents with vital resources.
We are committed to being this connection point.
In partnership with the United Way, we are launching a web site laid out in a way that’s easy to understand with categories like:
“I need a job”
“I need help with child care”
“My home is being foreclosed on”
Residents can find out how to get more money in their tax returns, utility aid and foreclosure prevention assistance.
Residents can save money on medications with discount prescription providers.
Orlando Connects isn’t just a one-way street.
I am personally going to take this effort “on the road” into our neighborhoods. Other Mayors, even our new first lady have done this. They call it a “listening tour.” But, I am bringing staff and others with me – so we can do more than just listen. It will be a “responding tour.”
Our second pillar is Orlando Builds.
It’s a package of actions designed to help accelerate planned construction and infrastructure projects to help generate jobs and economic activity now.
We have more than 80 million dollars worth of City construction projects ready to go over the next year. But, we can’t wait that long. I have instructed our staff to find ways to expedite the bidding process on these projects so we can infuse cash into our local economy. This effort can be seen as we break ground on Mills Avenue improvements in partnership with Commissioner Stuart.
We are also going to help our businesses and homeowners start their own projects now, rather than later.
From Small business… to big corporation.
From home owner… to home builder.
From permitting… to planning.
We are going to make it easier to get projects done.
Orlando Works is our third pillar.
It’s about jobs, plain and simple.
In this time of economic uncertainty we must start a collective conversation about how to create and maintain jobs and keep businesses afloat.
We are hosting:
- the Mayor’s Small Business and Retail Summit
- And a series of Mayor’s Economic Action Forums
With the leadership of Commissioner Lynum, we are encouraging the private sector to embrace our “blueprint ideals” to ensure minority and women owned businesses are part of the solution.
We must also tap into the power of our downtown to be an engine that lifts Central Florida out of peril and creates more jobs and business opportunities. At the request of our business community, we’re chartering a comprehensive downtown retail and entertainment study to help us improve conditions for existing businesses and attract new ones.
We are going to reinvent the way we market downtown. Our effort to aid business extends to other corridors in our city.
With the leadership of Commissioner Ortiz, we are expanding opportunities on our east side, particularly within our growing Hispanic community.
Our new pilot program along the Semoran Boulevard corridor will connect businesses to the resources of the Orlando Business Development Center.
Every year we are ranked as one of the top cities for entrepreneurs. We must keep this spirit alive.
A recent Department of Commerce study showed incubators are the most cost effective investment local governments can make to create jobs. The Disney Entrepreneur Center, The Metro Orlando EDC, UCF’s Business incubator. This is where tomorrow’s quality jobs are being born today.
Our plan ensures that we continue to use their resources and expertise to help companies grow and thrive.
Buy Local Orlando
Our next pillar is Buy Local Orlando. And that’s what I want residents and businesses to do.
Whether its business expenses, goods and services for the home, or even arts and entertainment, our residents can choose to spend their money in Central Florida. In this time of uncertainty, choosing to buy local can make all the difference.
Commissioner Sheehan has long been a champion for our local merchants and our Main Street program – like the one at Mills and 50 – a prime example of the power of neighborhood retail.
The world travels to Orlando to vacation. Tourism is one of our main economic engines. But, we can fuel that engine ourselves.
In partnership with the Orlando-Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau and our hospitality partners… we are encouraging residents to have their vacations right here at home this year, in the hospitality capital of the world.
Orlando Partners is our fifth pillar.
We are working with the federal government to ensure that every economic stimulus dollar available to Orlando ends up in Orlando. We’ve identified “shovel ready” projects that could be funded through the President’s economic stimulus package. We are working with the state and the US Conference of Mayor’s to get these projects in gear. We are also going to use federal funds to help address the effects of foreclosures and declining home values.
Partnering also means urging our residents to stay active in our community. We need your ideas, we need your energy. And a great example, I was recently on air with my friends from the Bucket Head Radio Show, who asked us to join a worldwide effort to look for ways to save energy and money.
As a result, we are encouraging all of our Downtown partners to join the City for Earth Hour on March 28.
Orlando Cares is our sixth pillar.
It’s about providing short term relief for families in trouble.
Job one on our list is making sure more residents don’t become homeless. We are all too familiar with the devastating ripple effects that homelessness has on our community. That’s why we made ending homelessness a priority for our region. Members of the Central Florida Regional Commission on Homelessness - led by Ray Larsen and Ed Timberlake - are here today to help us celebrate a critical victory.
It’s my privilege to officially announce the Obama administration has directed a record amount of funding to us, more than six million dollars. This is more resources than we have ever had before to fight homelessness. And, Cathy Jackson and the Homeless Services Network will coordinate with our dedicated homeless service providers to expand programs region-wide.
We have also been chosen as one of only 23 communities nationwide to be the site of a pilot program called “Rapid Re-Housing” at the Coalition for the Homeless.
Phillip Mangano is here, too. He is President Obama’s “Homeless Czar.” As the executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness he has worked with us and cities around the country in developing ambitious plans to end homelessness. On behalf of the residents of the great City of Orlando, we have a message for you to take back to our new President: His Priority to end homelessness… is also Our Priority.
One of the more troubling trends of this economic crisis is occurring in the realm of healthcare. People are paying bills rather than buying medicine. Foregoing medical care should never have to be an option. So, we are teaming up with our partners at Florida Hospital, Orlando Health and Florida’s Blood Centers to host the “Mayor’s Healthy Community Summit” where we will offer health consultations and screenings… for free.
A roof over our head is another basic human need … we are keeping people in their homes with short-term relief, offering:
- Up to 5-thouand dollars in emergency home repairs.
- Rental assistance, including help with security deposits and utility start-up costs.
- Assistance for low to middle income households with delinquent mortgages up to 75-hundred dollars.
- Financial advice from local banks.
- A connection to child care
- And - Job opportunities for students.
Finally, I am happy to report we have been able to prevent budget cuts to our social service providers and homeless advocates.
I don’t want anyone to be confused. Caring is not a hand-out or a bail-out. Our aim is to help hard working people survive a short term crisis… so they may thrive later.
Strengthen Orlando and our Existing Priorities
As I said earlier, this is not a stand-alone strategy. Strengthen Orlando is designed to enhance the priorities this administration stands for:
- ·Neighborhood Safety
- Extending opportunity to all our residents
- Expanding transportation options – and smart growth
- Superior customer service
- Fiscal responsibility and efficient government.
A safe community is a strong community.
From the day I took office… safety has been, and remains, job one. We adapted to a nationwide surge in violent crime that threatened our community. We’ve seen partnerships flourish between residents and the officers who now patrol neighborhoods on foot. We’ve seen a new police Chief with an infectious work ethic inspire a department to challenge the status quo.
The result is a bolstered police force that has taken the fight to criminals in new and innovative ways and reduced violent crime city-wide. The vast majority of violent crime and homicides in our City is related to the drug trade.
Our drug enforcement division and our TAC squads made substantial gains this year… increasing drug arrests more than 25 percent. That’s more than a thousand offenders off the streets.
In the Parramore neighborhood, what many consider our most crime-ridden neighborhood, we have gone block by block to push the criminals out. It’s just the beginning.
Through a pilot program with the National Integrated Ballistics Network, investigators have the ability to determine if a seized gun has been used in other crimes… in a matter of hours… instead of the weeks or months it used to take. In fact, the first gun tested matched two Central Florida shootings.
We also activated Operation Fulcrum, which puts “quick strike” units in crime hot spots to search for guns and drugs. In only two “strikes” - OPD confiscated 12 guns used in crimes and made 52 felony arrests. Taking illegal guns off the street stops violent crime in its tracks.
Chief Demings and I are working with a coalition of Mayors from across the country to make this effort a national priority. OPD will soon launch a new era of “next generation policing.” This spring, our “smart camera” initiative, IRIS, will “go live” in the Parramore neighborhood.
Police will be able to monitor cameras from a command center 24 hours a day.
Even during the test phase, IRIS cameras have disrupted open air drug markets, stopped fights and resulted in the recovery of a stolen vehicle.
Outside of safety, no other issue has required the amount of time and personal attention that SunRail has in the past few months. The reason is clear. If we are to grow into the next great American City, then we must put transportation options in place, now, to handle our future population which is expected to double in the next two decades.
Rail transit is the critical first step.
SunRail will take thousands of cars off I-4. But that’s only scratching the surface of its importance.
I stood with Governor Crist to unveil SunRail’s economic impact generating more than 250 thousand jobs and almost 9 billion dollars over the next quarter century. As one of only five projects nationally – set for inclusion in the president’s budget, it will start generating jobs in a matter of months.
SunRail is a shining example of what can happen when you put partisanship - and petty regional differences aside and work for the larger benefit of everyone. If I mentioned all those who have helped, it would take all day.
I want to specifically recognize some individuals with us.
State Senators Lee Constantine and Andy Gardiner and Florida House Speaker-Designate Dean Cannon – Your tireless commitment to this project has been the very embodiment of public service.
Jacob Stuart with the Central Florida Partnership, Harry Barley with Metro Plan Orlando, Ray Gilley with the Metro Orlando EDC and Linda Watson with LYNX, you have carried our spirit of collaboration and partnership across the entire state. Your work is a big reason why so many communities now understand that SunRail’s success will lay the foundation for their rail projects… and a future statewide rail network.
Congressman John Mica, Congresswoman Corrine Brown were not able to be with us – but we could not have asked for better champions on the federal level.
Last night, we heard, again, about the power of public works projects from our new president.
There is no bigger believer than me in the ability of these endeavors to put thousands of people to work and infuse money into our local economy.
Long before this recession – using an FDR-style project was one of our goals when we came together as a region to create our community venues.
So, it’s not without irony that this historic crisis has hurt our tourism industry and threatened our ability to complete two thirds of the largest public works project in Central Florida history.
Let me be clear. The community venues and the jobs they create are now more important than ever. Right now, through the support and guidance from the Orlando Magic, people are working and companies are surviving because of the opportunity to work on the Events Center.
33% of the construction is being done by minority and women-owned companies. Giving up on our community venues would be giving up on our vision for downtown Orlando as the economic and cultural hub of Central Florida. We are hard at work exploring fiscally responsible solutions to address the current economic challenges facing these critical projects. We are going to do everything in our power to get them done.
Budgeting and Efficient Government
Responsible management of our fiscal health has been a hallmark of our administration. Our City Council has made difficult decisions.
Last year, we cut jobs, we froze positions, we reduced costs, we pulled from our reserves. We made the hard decision to adjust the millage rate as part of a responsible and balanced plan to keep our City moving forward.
As we begin to develop this year’s budget, we are forecasting another difficult year. We will likely see a reduction in property tax revenue – as well as a reduction in sales tax and municipal revenue sharing. Costs out of our control like healthcare are also likely to rise.
Commissioners, we have made difficult decisions before … and more lie ahead. A higher millage rate would likely be required just to produce last year’s revenues.
But now is not the time. Instead, I propose that we live on less -- so that our citizens can retain more of their money to endure this crisis.
We will work together to hold the line on the millage rate this year. It won’t be easy.
Our City will have to make the same hard choices our families do. But, together, I know we can do it.
In January, I had the privilege of representing our residents in Washington for President Obama’s inauguration.
It was a powerful experience, not just because of the number of people, but because of the electric spirit of optimism that flowed through the crowd. Last night, the President talked about that “Enduring American spirit that will not quit.”
Make no mistake about it - that spirit is alive in Orlando. I feel it every time someone tells me how much they believe in our City and what we are… what we can be… what we will be.
Yes - the state of our economy may be shaken… The state of our minds may suffer from uncertainty But the State of our City is resilient and ready to overcome any challenge!
When times are at their worst… I know the people who call Orlando home are up to the task of being their best.
We worked hard over the last six years and that work has put us in a better position than many cities to endure this hardship and surge ahead once our national economy recovers.
To borrow from our new President, we are ready, and we are willing… and we are able to turn Peril into Prosperity. We are ready… to Strengthen Orlando!
God Bless Orlando.
God Bless America.