Rybak says he’s confident city will weather economic downturn

Mayor R.T. Rybak said during his State of the City address Wednesday that Minneapolis is facing tough times, and will survive by an investment in common interests and uncommon people.

“Minneapolis is going to weather this period of uncertainty,” Rybak said. “Our economy has a sound foundation and our city government has a strong economic strategy.”

In his 40-minute speech, Rybak addressed the following topics:

• Economy: Rybak cited the city’s young professionals, leading literacy rate, high income, numerous major corporations and affordability as weapons for a “recession resistant economy.”

• Health care: Rybak called this the centerpiece of the city’s strategy over the next year. Health care is the city’s largest industry and — at 45,000 jobs — its largest employer, and fastest expanding portion of the economy.

• Future employment growth: While the employment rate has grown three straight years, Rybak addressed the future. He said by raising the (currently very low) graduation rates among black (55 percent), American Indian (43) and Latino (32) students through programming — and incentives such as free college tuition — the next generation of Minneapolitan workers will be there to replace those retiring.

• Lifescience industries: Rybak urged the state Legislature to fund University of Minnesota’s request for University Research Park in the 2008 bonding bill. With St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman sitting in the third row, Rybak said that innovative “green collar” jobs will play a role in the future Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“The economy, as you know, is in rapid flux and the old ways of doing things are literally running out of gas,” he said.

• Expanding transportation: Rybak outlined the plan to, if fully funded, implement rapid bus transit from Lakeville to Downtown and “completely rebuild” Marquette and Second Avenues into commuter transit malls. Furthermore, $7 million (on top of $22 million over the last five years) will be invested in bike trails and walking paths. In keeping with the historical tone of the speech, the mayor, now in his seventh year, also vowed to bring streetcars back to Minneapolis.

• Wireless Internet: The Mayor said it fosters employment and partnership. However, he also recognized the “challenges” getting the service off the ground, mainly in Lowry Hill and Loring Park.

• Safety: Crime was down in nearly every major category — including a 21 percent reduction in homicides — in 2007, according to the presentation.

The mayor said there’s agreement among law enforcement that the best public safety strategy is economic development; and vice versa. The addition of 18 more officers in 2008 (now 880 sworn officers) replaces those lost under 2003 budget cuts. He also thanked Target Corp. for their investment in security cameras Downtown.

“Making Minneapolis a safe place to call home has been our highest priority and it will continue to be,” he said.

Furthermore, Rybak thanked the city’s state lawmakers for their efforts at the state Legislature. However, he also disagreed strongly with economic philosophies shown by politicians in St. Paul and Washington, D.C.

“You do not build a recession resistant economy, that creates lasting prosperity, with a one-time rebate check, or a singly tax-cut only for the wealthy,” he said. “When you make quality investments, with quality government, in quality people, you get quality results.”

Rybak reminded the hundreds gathered at the newly completed MacPhail Center For Music that just yards away — at the Downtown riverfront — workers 150 years earlier adapted from the fledgling mill industry. They were retrained and began the city’s first corporations.

“We didn’t get here by just giving a few lucky breaks to a few lucky companies,” Rybak said. “We made a long-term, sustained commitment to innovation, to training a diverse work force, and remaining connected to the regional and global economy. That’s how we got here and that’s how we’re going to move forward from here.”