I was recently asked to give a State of the City Report to a room full of my favorite Kent businesses and since I went to the effort of writing a short speech for it, I thought it might make sense to share it on the blog. The only thing I’d add is that I rarely follow my script so the speech below doesn’t include all the ad lib comments I made — which could be good or bad , but it definitely makes it look shorter than it was.
(Not) The State of the City Address
Understandably people want to know how their community is doing and I’m happy to tell them – but don’t be surprised if I don’t call it the state of the City address.
I know that’s the common terminology but the state of the City sounds too static to tell the story of something that is in perpetual motion like our community. A snapshot makes a nice postcard but life in Kent is 3-dimensional, eclectic and dynamic – that’s what makes us so interesting.
The socio-economic trends that shape our community change every day, so offering a snapshot runs the risk of being outdated the minute I make it. I’d rather talk about our strategic trajectory — our flight path — offering insights into where we’re at, how far we’ve come and what’s ahead. I want to know whether we are on the right path and heading in the right direction.
If you follow the headlines it would be easy to start and finish this discussion with a commentary on the downtown redevelopment efforts. For obvious reasons economic development is a top priority for the City and a lot of that focus has centered around the revitalization of the central business district.
The goal is to re-energize the Kent economy by bringing back some of Kent’s most successful corporations into downtown and re-connecting that business hub with the Kent State University campus. Within that mix lies Kent’s future and if you drive through the downtown you can see that we’re well on our way to what is turning out to be a transformation of historic proportions. In this economy it can’t come soon enough.
A lot has been written about the downtown and as significant as that is, I think it’s important to point out that the City is not a single act play; we’re a full service City with a wide range strategic priorities. Admittedly in this economy job creation has been a dominant theme but we’ve been busy across all of our strategic priority areas.
Quality of life, neighborhood preservation, public safety, community building, and environmental conservation may not be as exciting as the bold economic initiatives that are underway but they are just as critical to our mission. Like any ecological system the City is all about balance. Our parts and pieces have to work together, and they all have to move forward together, bound in purpose and inspired by our community values and aspirations.
We’re proud of the fact that in the last 5 years we’ve had more public and private investment in the Kent economy than we’ve seen in the last 25 years but we’re just as proud to point out that at the same time we’ve developed more neighborhood initiatives, enacted more proactive legislation and expanded more neighborhood services than we’ve done at any other time in the last 25 years.
We’ve raised the bar on our environmental stewardship, surpassed our sustainability goals, and adopted green building as standard practice. The Kent Dam project received national and international acclaim for being at the forefront of river restoration and our aggressive trail building has made the rejuvenated river a staple of outdoor recreation opportunities in Kent.
Despite the budget crunch, the Kent Public Safety forces have introduced community based policing programs to engage City residents to take pride in their neighborhoods and work together with the Police to keep their streets safe. The results speak for themselves – in nearly every category of crime activity Kent ranks safer than our peer cities.
We’ve waged our own internal war against the impacts of the great recession. As City revenues have declined we’ve cut vacant positions, we’ve re-bid contracts, we’ve partnered, we’ve collaborated, and we’ve created productivity and efficiency savings well over $3 million from our operating budget.
I’m fairly certain that we’ll be talking about jobs for years to come but we’ve got to make sure that we don’t allow jobs to define us. Kent is more than the dollars and cents of a paycheck; it’s a lifestyle, it’s a community, it’s a place we’re proud to call home.
That’s what government service is all about – cultivating community potential, one person at a time. It’s living up to a promise to be there when people need us. A promise that parks and homes are safe, bridges strong and fires prevented. Making sure people thrive. That’s our flight path.