Good morning. This truly is a moment for all of us in the City of Atlanta to pause and reflect on what we have accomplished together over the past few years.
So much of what we just watched in the video would not be possible without the support of our business community and leaders such as my good friend, Muhtar Kent. The Coca-Cola Company has been a steadfast partner with the city of Atlanta for decades. In the past three years alone, the company has invested more than $1 million in city-sponsored programs, especially the Centers of Hope initiative. Our children and young people are the direct beneficiaries of that kindness.
So thank you, Muhtar, for everything that you and Coca-Cola do for the City of Atlanta.
I would also like to acknowledge the entire Atlanta Committee for Progress for your support in hosting today’s State of the City breakfast. Thank you, Jim Hannan. I also want to express my gratitude to Phil Kent, the CEO of Turner Broadcasting, who so ably led the organization over the last year.
I would be remiss not to express my gratitude to the distinguished men and women who serve on the Atlanta City Council. Let’s please pause and acknowledge City Council President Ceasar Mitchell and all the members of the council. Please stand and let everyone see you.
The City of Atlanta put the stamp on another banner year in 2012, and I want everyone to know that none of those accomplishments would have occurred without your leadership, your insight and your dedication. We do not agree all of the time, but this is a focused, hard-working City Council that is making our city better very day. You deserve another round of applause for all of the accomplishments and advancements of the past year.
I want to acknowledge all of the distinguished members of Atlanta’s Consular Corps and thank them for their partnerships and their friendships. You contribute so much to what makes Atlanta a true world-class city.
I also say welcome to Chief Judge Crystal Gaines and the members of the city’s judiciary, other elected officials and honored guests. I thank you for being here in support of our city and for your ongoing contributions and continuing partnerships that are so vital as the City of Atlanta maximizes its position as a global city and as the logistics center of the Southeast United States of America and the Western Hemisphere.
And now I want to thank the people who have stood by me long before I ever dreamed of becoming mayor … the Reed family. I was blessed to have my parents, June and Sylvia Reed, to stand with me holding the Bible as I took oath as the city’s 59th Mayor, and I am thankful they are here with me today. Mom and Dad, will you please stand?
I also want to thank my stepmother, Dr. Rogsbert Phillips, for being here as well as my three brothers, Carlton, Chuck and Tracy. Thank you for your everlasting support.
And, finally, I want to thank every single one of you … whether you are an employee of the City of Atlanta, work in the City of Atlanta, do business in the City of Atlanta, or live in the City of Atlanta.
You are the energy, the spirit and, most importantly, the heart and soul of our City. You are what inspires me to each morning to do more. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your ongoing support and encouragement.
This is my fourth State of the City address and the final one as I finish my first term in office. There have been quite of lot of questions and some speculation about my plans for the next stage of my political career and whether I might go to Washington or seek higher office.
Well, I personally believe that if you spend too much time worrying about your next job, you lose sight of what you need to accomplish in your current position. And so I am here to tell you that I have no plans right now to do anything else besides serve as your mayor. I love being mayor, and I am going to keep being mayor as long as you will have me.
You see, I am living the dream of a 13-year-old boy from Southwest Atlanta who looked up to Atlanta Mayors such as Sam Massell and Maynard Jackson Jr. and Andrew Young and Shirley Franklin and hoped that one day he would get to step into their shoes and serve the City of Atlanta in his own right as mayor.
And three years ago, with the grace of God and the help of a lot of great people and partners and collaborators, I achieved that dream. And while I’m never satisfied because there is always more work to be done, I can tell you that the City of Atlanta is in a vastly different position today than when I was sworn in just over 3 years ago.
We, in Atlanta, are a financially stable city.
When I came to office in 2010, the City of Atlanta faced a nearly $48 million budget shortfall and had only $7.4 million in reserves. We had hard decisions to make. My administration streamlined inefficiencies in city government and reduced spending in some areas, while at the same time, we kept our promise to hire more police officers and invest in young people by re-opening our recreation centers and pools.
Your city government followed the example of thousands of men and women in Atlanta by saving more. We increased the city’s cash reserves by 17 times --- taking it from $7.4 million to $126.7 million in real dollars as audited by KPMG.
Please note: We did so without layoffs or property tax increases…and with a budget that is roughly $100 million less than the city’s general fund budget in 2008.
We also addressed our city’s $1.5 billion unfunded pension liability in a collaborative way. My administration worked with this city council and our employee unions on a reform plan that will save the city $270 million over 10 years and $500 million over the next 30.
Our hard work has been recognized. Last year, Moody’s Investors Service last summer affirmed the City of Atlanta’s Aa2 rating and upgraded its outlook on our outstanding bonds and contractual obligations from “negative” to “stable.”
Was I happy with Aa2 and “stable?” Sure … for a moment last summer. But I’m not satisfied. We need to get our bond-rating higher. We must become a “Aaa” city. I want investors to know that Atlanta is not just a safe bet … but the smartest bet.
CNBC certainly thinks so, and as we have started to come out of recovery, the network named Atlanta as the winner in its inaugural “Recovery Road Trip.” As part of that series, CNBC named Atlanta as the No. 1 city in stock performance in 2012 based on the performance of our biggest public companies in the stock market.
So Atlanta is no longer a house built on a foundation of sand, vulnerable to the winds and the rains and the floods. We are now a house built on a foundation of rock.
And because of that … WE CAN DO MORE. We can do more for our residents. We can do more for our businesses. We can do more for our most vulnerable citizens – our children, our seniors and our homeless brothers and sisters.
We have about a $922 million backlog in infrastructure needs across our city, and we’re strong enough to fund at least $250 million worth of infrastructure improvements in the coming years and probably more. And I believe we are in a strong enough position to handle a new stadium very comfortably without any impact to the city’s finances or credit rating.
I do believe that, when you’re in office, there are times when you have to make 10-, 15- and 20-year decisions. This is one of those times. If you don’t want to make these kinds of decisions, you shouldn’t have a job like this.
So we can do more. And we will do more.
I am also here to tell you that as of today…
We, in Atlanta, are a safer city.
When I campaigned for Mayor, I made a promise to invest in the Atlanta Police Department and achieve a longstanding goal of a force of 2,000 sworn officers. Over the past three years, we have recruited more than 700 new police officers, and last year, we passed a budget that will ensure we reach 2,000 this year.
We didn’t stop there as Chief Turner and his team, with the help of the Atlanta Police Foundation and the support of my administration and this City Council, have implemented one of the most comprehensive police training programs in the state of Georgia.
We have also invested in state-of-the-art police technology so our officers have the crime-fighting tools they need. That includes the new Loudermilk Video Integration Center, which pulls from more than 700 public- and private-sector cameras across downtown, Midtown and Buckhead. Soon, it will be the most effective and most robust video surveillance system in the nation.
Our police department also engages in smarter and more proactive police measures, such as the Community Oriented Policing Section and two full-time police officer LGBT liaisons. And the Chief has realigned the department’s beat structure to reduce response times.
As a result, Atlanta’s felony crimes are the lowest they have been since 1969. And that’s based on an analysis of 50 years worth of crime statistics. Last year, our city had only 85 homicides, the second lowest in the city since 1962. And our overall violent crime is down to levels we haven’t seen since 1972.
Over at the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department, Chief Kelvin Cochran and his firefighters have achieved some major milestones themselves. Last summer, the department achieved my administration’s goal of full staffing of four firefighters per engine and zero vacant firefighter positions for the first time in decades.
In addition, the department enhanced its Special Operations team and implemented a Swift Water Rescue Team, a Dignitary Medic Team and the SWAT Medic Team.
As a result, the department has eliminated brown-outs due to staffing shortages, and it has reached new levels of emergency responsiveness based on stringent National Fire Protection Association Codes and Standards.
It’s no wonder why Fire Chief magazine named our own Chief Cochran as its Fire Chief of the Year for 2012.
Am I happy with the public safety figures? For now. Am I satisfied? No. Because I know we can do more. We can do better, and we will do more to bring those figures down even further… make them even more impressive. We still have more to do to ensure our public safety officers have the most state-of-the-art technology and training … and we will do more.
And those crime and safety figures will continue to improve. So we will have even fewer homicides and less property damage … and we can do more to avoid anything like the school shooting of a couple of weeks ago.
We will do more.
At the same time we are a safer city, I want everyone to know that …
We, in Atlanta, are a more caring and beautiful city.
Ever since I became Mayor, I have talked a lot about Atlanta stretching beyond the “City Too Busy to Hate” and truly becoming the “City Not Too Busy to Love One Another.”
If anyone ever thought that was just talk, they have been proven wrong many times over the past year. And I want to tell everyone about a moment when Atlanta revealed beyond measure its true heart and soul … when our great city literally walked the walk and showed that this is a city that is going to take care of itself, especially the most vulnerable members of our community.
I don’t know if you remember what it was like on the evening of Thursday, Jan. 17, but it was one of the coldest nights of the winter so far with temperatures dipping near freezing with winds reaching 35 mph; so it was really cold with drizzling rain that night.
You wouldn’t think anyone would be out that night, but I’m telling you that we had 190 volunteers out taking an important Vulnerability Survey – a deeply personal survey – to fully assess what we need to do to address the homelessness issue in our city.
Ladies and Gentleman, the people of this city … continue to surprise me ... in the ways they display the heart and soul of our city, and they did so that night.
Last year, the city and its partners found supportive housing for more than 300 veterans, and we were praised as the top city in the United States in a challenge issued by the White House to house 100 veterans in 100 days.
We housed 300 veterans so far, but that’s not enough for me. I want to house all of our veterans and end chronic homelessness among that group by the end of this year. And I want to take that momentum and find supportive housing for more and more of our homeless brothers and sisters so we can put the numbers of our homeless on a significant downward trend.
We can do more … and we are doing more.
After we reopened every single one of the city’s 33 recreation centers at the start of my administration, we began transforming them into Centers of Hope, where our young people can have structured after-school environments for play, study and character development. We have two pilot programs in Thomasville and Adamsville and thanks to such great corporate partners as Coca-Cola, Turner Broadcasting, Wells Fargo and U.S. Micro, we are going to expand them across the city very soon.
We also reopened the Mayor’s Office of Constituent Services because at our core, city officials have to provide basic customer service each and every single time they visit or call City Hall. We launched a new Web site that makes it easier for our constituents to handle many key city services from their own computers.
And I am pleased to announce that we will do more this year and launch a 311 service that will make City Hall even more responsive to our constituents. And we are doing this because we can … and we must … and we will do more for our citizens.
And we are going to do more to make Atlanta a more beautiful city. We have our “Love Your Block” neighborhood program, which has supported 27 neighborhood groups across this city through the work of nearly 800 community volunteers donating more than 5,000 service hours.
Last year, they planted more than 900 trees and shrubs and removed more than 22,000 pounds of litter. And this year, we are going to go further, and we are going to beautify the gateways into our city so everyone will see what a beautiful city Atlanta can be.
We are doing what we can to remove blight from our neighborhood. And I am pleased to announce that we have eradicated a backlog of more than 5,000 code complaint violations after we moved Code Enforcement under the command of our police department. We will never again allow such a backlog to happen again, and we will do more to combat those issues in the months ahead.
That’s what I’m talking about when we say that Atlanta is becoming a more beautiful and more caring city.
And these are just a few of the projects that show how …
We, in Atlanta, are a thriving city.
We have continued the development and expansion of the Atlanta BeltLine, having opened 4.5 miles of new trails and four new parks totaling more than 30 acres since I became Mayor. I have been calling this project the most transformational urban redevelopment project in the nation, and the Sierra Club itself last year said it was one of the best and most important transportation projects in the United States of America.
The world is watching us. They are watching us because we are doing big things even following one of the most difficult recessions in American history. The folks in Charlotte, N.C., asked me to visit with them last week about streetcar and transit projects. Now we are sort of rivals with our friends north of here … a bit of friendly competition here in the Southeast … but they turned to us because they knew that we were doing something big and that we were doing it the right way.
And I told them that leading cities have streetcars. They have innovative transit. And even though we have faced some criticism, we have moved ahead because we know that economic development has historically followed innovative transit projects.
Last year, we began construction on the actual Atlanta Streetcar project. I am here to tell you that you are going to see our downtown transform before your eyes soon after service begins in early 2014.
We are also doing more to make Atlanta a top-tier sustainable city. Last year, we launched Cartlanta, the city’s new residential recycling program, and I am pleased to announce that it has already boosted our recycling tonnage by 30 percent. At the same time, recycling rates at City Hall and other municipal buildings have increased six-fold.
And as part of our sustainability efforts, we have the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge, an initiative that seeks to reduce energy and water consumption in our commercial buildings by 20 percent by the year 2020. In just one year, more than 48 million square feet from 74 properties are committed to this challenge.
Going green not only makes sense from an environmental standpoint, but an economic one. The energy and diverted waste will save millions and millions of dollars each year, so we are going to benefit in many, many ways. We are also thriving because we are creating real jobs.
In 2011, I told you about the Hire One Atlanta campaign and how it began as a partnership with the Atlanta Business Chronicle with just a simple premise: Encouraging each business in Metro Atlanta to hire at least one new employee. Today, I can report that more than 1,400 companies participated in the campaign, leading to more than 16,200 jobs.
We didn’t stop there.
Last year, I announced the re-launch of the city’s economic development authority as Invest Atlanta, with a broader mission to make Atlanta the most economically competitive and dynamic city in the world. Since then, Invest Atlanta has reported 35 project wins that helped create 2,024 direct jobs and 1,292 indirect ones and attracted more than $700 million in private-sector capital.
Folks, they are only getting started. Invest Atlanta will do more. It launched “Start Up Atlanta” last year to support entrepreneurs, and, next week, we will host the first-ever citywide hack-a-thon to motivate the computer-coding community to help the city with technological issues and innovations. And later this year, we plan to open an incubator for female-owned and operated small businesses at the old AJC building on Marietta Street.
And more job and economic opportunities will come from abroad as we expand our international affairs activities and fully staff the city’s expanded International Affairs Office and make more connections to more countries than ever before. Last year, Invest Atlanta and the Metro Atlanta Chamber joined with me to host our trade mission to China to help small- and medium-sized business increase their international footprint. That mission resulted in 32 export trade leads, 13 international direct investment leads and nine projects. We expect potential export sales from that mission to exceed $88 million.
And we only plan to do more. We are working on a trade mission to Brazil, and I invite you all to join because we are working to make Atlanta our nation’s gateway to all of Latin America.
We will see more opportunities in Downtown Atlanta, which makes up the core of our $11 billion convention and tourism industry as three major projects come online. Just last December, I joined with Governor Deal and the National Football Foundation to announce groundbreaking details for the College Football Hall of Fame, and we broke ground on the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Also last year, many federal, state and regional leaders gathered in 120 acres of undeveloped land near the Georgia Dome for an announcement about President Obama’s decision to fast track the Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal Project, which will create a vital regional hub for transportation and transit.
Now, if those projects don’t reflect a thriving city, then this certainly does.
Great world cities must have great art, so we are supporting the arts in an even greater way. Last year we doubled the budget for the city’s Contracts for Arts Services Program and launched the Power 2 Give program, which has raised more than $92,000 in additional funding for the city’s arts organizations.
So we aren’t satisfied with what we accomplished so far. We are ready to do much, much more.
Finally, I want everyone to understand that …
We, in Atlanta, are a world-class city.
As the host of the Centennial Olympics and home of the world’s busiest passenger airport, Atlanta has definitely made its mark on the world, but I want us to do more to ensure Atlanta’s place as a World-Class City of the Ages.
Nothing embodies that more than the opening of the Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal last May. With 12 international gates and a new baggage recheck process that makes it so our international travelers only have to check their bag one time, this terminal solidifies our global standing.
And it moves us even closer to my vision as Atlanta as the logistics hub of the Western Hemisphere.
You see, we live in a very special place in the world, a place that wasn’t blessed with the mountain vistas or the lakefront views or the ocean beachfronts that are the hallmark of almost every other great city of the world. This city had to be created, and our city marks the spot that once served as major crossroads of the railroad.
And this city grew because of determined people … determined people with a vision.
We remain a major crossroads of our nation. But instead of just railroads, we have the largest airport on Planet Earth with an ever-increasing air cargo capacity. And just four hours away in Savannah, we have the fastest-growing and fourth-largest U.S. container port on the Eastern seaboard. And last year, the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which recently earned final approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will contribute greatly to economic development in the state and in metropolitan Atlanta. I cannot overstate the benefits of the link between that port and our airport and what can happen once the port is deepened, and it can handle the big ships that will be moving through a renovated Panama Canal in 2014.
These two logistics hubs are vital economic generators for the entire state and region. Now imagine if they were linked by high-speed rail. I believe that would change the game for all of Georgia. Imagine getting off work at 5 p.m. and being on the coast within 90 minutes.
Atlanta would finally have its ocean.
High-speed rail between Atlanta and Savannah is not a pipe dream; there is a strong economic argument for the investment. But it is also an inspiring notion, one that dares us to think and dream bigger and better. Those are the kinds of debates worth having, and many young leaders around the nation are embracing and championing these ideas.
Now we have a challenge to fund these improvements because our voters this summer made it clear that they won’t accept any new taxes if they don’t believe government cannot deliver solid results.
But I believe we can find innovative methods for two reasons. First, there are models of public-private partnerships to secure funds at very low interest rates without overburdening taxpayers.
We can already see this happening with the Atlanta BeltLine where more than $30 million for the project has been raised through the private sector. And special Tax Allocation District funds, designed to foster economic development in city neighborhoods, have made up the difference.
But most of all, we have seen unprecedented levels of cooperation among Georgia’s Republican and Democratic leaders and with business and economic leaders on major initiatives.
Just look at the partnerships behind the Port of Savannah. Look over to Aerotropolis Atlanta where thanks to the work of Invest Atlanta and our partnerships with Governor Nathan Deal and the state, Porsche recently broke ground on its North American headquarters.
I cannot begin to describe what that one event means for the economic development that will occur around the airport in the coming years. But I can say, we have already seen some of the residual effects of Porsche. Triumph Motorcycles, Krystal’s and Carters and some other national and international corporations have already announced their move to Atlanta.
These companies and more have recognized that Atlanta has put its act together in a collaborative way that shows that we have the infrastructure, the work force, the logistics and the desire to handle national and global business and commerce in a way that can compete with any other city in the world.
They can see that we are ready and able to do more.
We will do more because world-class cities do more. That’s why they are world class. It’s not an accident.
And we here in Atlanta did not get to this point by happenstance or coincidence. We are here today in a vibrant, caring, safe and thriving Atlanta because of deliberate decision-making from people who chose to dream and chose to dream big. These were people who weren’t satisfied with the status quos of their time. They had the options of either doing what they needed to do to just survive or choosing the future.
They choose the future.
And when they did, they chose to dream big.
When you choose to dream, the sky’s not the limit. There are no limits.
Now when it comes down to actually striving for and achieving the dreams, you have to be smart, realistic, responsible. But when I ask you to dream, I don’t want you to limit yourself. When we set a dream … a really good one… it will stretch us and really make us grow. Part of my job as Mayor is to set the vision … cast the dream. I would do our city and our region and our state a great disservice if I didn’t dream or encourage us all to dream big.
When we set our sights low, we grow the wrong direction. We stoop. We begin to hunch over and start to shrivel.
Atlanta has always been led by people who strive for big dreams. Hartsfield had a dream of an airport but he didn’t want just any regional airport or even a national airport. He wanted it to have planes that flew around the world.
And Maynard Jackson took that dream and put in place the infrastructure and processes in place that made it the most efficient and the busiest in the world.
Andrew Young did not just want this city to be world class, and he didn’t just want the Olympics. He wanted the Centennial Olympics. He was never satisfied. He wanted the best.
We are here today because of other great mayors from Ivan Allen and Sam Massell and Shirley Franklin … mayors who made real and deliberate decisions because they weren’t satisfied with just the status quo. They all chose the future.
And that’s what we are going to do because Atlanta is in the future business.
I don’t believe that I am serving just for the citizens today, I see my time as an administration for a future generation of leaders so that when they stand to lead Atlanta, they will inherit a safe city on a solid fiscal foundation with strong infrastructure and inspired, hopeful citizens.
What makes Atlanta great is that we never stop dreaming, never stop stretching and never stop achieving. The Next Great Act is coming up, and when we get there, we may be satisfied, but only for a moment. And then we will be ready, eager and willing to go after the next great set of dreams, another Great Act.
Thank you and God bless you all.