“Designing the Future” — Mayor McFarlane’s 2014 State of the City Address

State of the City

On Monday, March 24, Mayor McFarlane delivered her 2014 State of the City Address to the Raleigh Rotary Club. Here is the complete text of her speech as prepared for delivery:

Thank you to everyone for being here, and special thanks to the Raleigh Rotary Club for hosting this event today. Thank you for all you do for the City of Raleigh.

I’d like to talk about where Raleigh is, how we got here and where we are going. We are in a great place. Financially, our balance sheet is strong. We have maintained a AAA bond rating since 1973. This allows us to access the debt markets at the lowest interest rate costs available. Our debt is well below the State Statutory Maximum.

It is a priority for us to ensure long-term financial sustainability for the City of Raleigh. 24/7 Wall Street placed Raleigh 7th on its list of the 10 best run cities in America. And all of this while providing city services at one of the lowest costs in North Carolina. I want to give a special thanks to our CFO, Perry James, who led us through a time of transition as interim city manager last year. Perry, thank you very much for your continued service to our city.

Take a look at the cards on your table. You will see a list of accolades that Raleigh has received over the past year:

  • “One of America’s New Tech Hot Spots” by Forbes
  • “Number 1 on America’s Most Family Friendly Cities list”
  • #1 Market for Retail job Growth
  • #1 Best Quality of Life

We know how to attract and retain talent. A survey of almost 8000 small businesses throughout the nation rating the business climate of metro areas and found Raleigh-
Durham the 8th of their objectives. The categories included: Overall friendliness, ease of starting a business, ease of hiring, tax code, licensing, environmental and zoning.

Raleigh-Cary is #3 on Bloomberg’s ranking of America’s “Boom Towns.” So, how did we get here? We became great by design. We have water, because in the 1970’s Mayor Tom Bradshaw and others had the foresight to build Falls Lake.

The founders of Research Triangle Park understood the importance of a strong employment base to the surrounding municipalities. Past councils and this one have understood the importance of keeping our tree canopy, which gives us the distinction of being called the city in a park. We ARE more beautiful than many cities. We have spent years growing one of the best parks and recreation departments in the country, which now totals over 9,700 acres of parkland. With over 100 miles of trails, our greenway system is the envy of communities around the world.

The success of our downtown comes from 10 years of planning for a comeback from the desolate space that was there not too long ago. Engaging with business, building the convention center, bringing restaurants all led to the revitalization of the heart of our city. Thank you Mayor Meeker.

There were lots of critics. Lots of criticism about “spending money downtown.” But when we see the success, the life, the vibrancy that has come downtown; we know we did the right thing.

In that same way, many of our accolades showcase the fact that we continue to plan and to understand where the market is going.

Some more accolades:

  • 15th most inventive city in the world.
  • #2 best city to start a business
  • Most family friendly city in America
  • #5 new tech hot spot
  • Up and coming city for entrepreneurs.

And of course, “North Carolina’s Axis of Cool.”

State of the City 2The world is changing, and Raleigh has experienced a lot of change in the past year, too. We welcomed our new city manager, Ruffin Hall. I’m not sure how much longer I can call him “new,” but we are all excited to have him and have already seen some great new ideas.

One of Ruffin’s and my first conversations was about Strategic Planning and the value of that process to setting a vision for the city. As a result, had our first city council retreat in many, many years. While it was the first step on the path, it set a vision of priorities for the city:

1) Safe, Healthy, and Vibrant Communities

We will prioritize the safety of our citizens. I cannot say enough great things about our public safety officers and first responders. They put their lives on the line for us every single day. Working with them, communities, parks and recreation, schools and county services will continue to make sure that our neighborhoods are safe. That people have access to food and health care.

Vibrant Communities also means that while we celebrate our successes, we recognize that not everyone benefits from them. Employment is key to the health of our communities. As we grow, we have to recognize that many people are coming here seeking employment. We are seeing an increase in the working poor. We still have children that are hungry and that is not acceptable. We all deserve a chance, and we will make sure that the opportunities we are creating are extended to all of our residents. We want us all to celebrate both our own space and the community at large.

2) Transportation and Transit

We are one of the fastest growing communities in the country. In order for us to remain competitive, we must address the fact that we need a robust public transportation system. One that connects us with the Triangle, which is vital for the University Systems, our large hospital systems and our regional employers. This is key for our economic development. Without it, we will be overcome with our success and choke ourselves off with congestion.

It also provides equal access to food, healthcare, jobs, childcare, all of those things that are needed for healthy communities.

3) Economic Development and Innovation

The best thing we can do for economic development is to make sure that businesses can find the talent they need right here. Make this the place that they want to be. Support creative spaces, such as HQ and American Underground Raleigh that foster entrepreneurs and help create those startups.

Partnerships such as “Innovate Raleigh” engage the community to support local talent and business. We see success stories such as local company ShareFile becoming part of Citrix. Insight to those stories is how we learn what we can do to support companies, both large and small.

4) Arts and Cultural Resources

The Arts are a huge part of our economic success. Arts and Culture are a $144 million industry in the city of Raleigh that supports 5,699 full time equivalent jobs and generates $14 million in local and state government revenue. But Arts and Culture also support all of our other businesses.When we talk about attracting talent, The arts are high on the list. It is how we define ourselves.

As mayor of Raleigh, I have engaged in talks with State Secretary of Cultural Resources Susan Kluttz about how we can pull together the great resources we have at the city and the state to showcase Raleigh, our Capital City — oh, I meant “The Southern Capital of Arts and Culture!”

5) Growth and Natural Resources

Water. Quantity and quality. Air. – Remember what I said about how all of these tie together? As we see asthma admissions at area hospitals rise, public transportation will play a role in our air quality. Open Space- Once again, important to economic development and quality of life.

6) Organizational Excellence

We know that a financially sound, well-run city is key to our future. We are your local government. We are here to serve you. Customer service is a high priority and we want to continually find ways to serve our community in better ways. We have a great staff with incredible ideas and unbelievable dedication, and I am looking forward to seeing what changes are ahead.

So, we know where we are and what our focus will be going forward. Our challenge is keeping Raleigh competitive and staying on the top of those lists. And we do it purposefully, by design.

We do it with our partners. We talk to business and find out what they need. We talk to citizens and find out their priorities. We talk to experts about natural resources.

We talk to NC State and our other colleges and universities. What amazing ideas are coming out of their schools? What do their graduates want and need? How can we keep the best and the brightest in Raleigh?

What do we hear?

Transit — Multimodal Availability: We understand that across the country, and the world, we are seeing a growing demand for downtown living. Employers like Citrix and Red Hat tell me that their employees want to be able to experience the city and area without having to be in a car. They want walkable, accessible communities that offer that lifestyle that allows for increased interactions and productivity without lost time driving a car.

Dix Park: This is an amenity that will last for lifetimes. I hear the requests from business owners, moms, kids, and people both young and old. Open space such as this is also on every recruiters list. The Governor and I are working on this. I am very hopeful that we will have a resolution very soon.

Great Design: We are so fortunate to have NC State and their incredible School of Design right here in Raleigh. Not to mention all of their other schools. And Centennial Campus- the innovation, the excitement and opportunity that comes from there and benefits our whole community is unparalleled.

I hear more and more about the design of cities. NC State and Raleigh have a history tied together through design. From great designers and architects that were there in the 60’s, to the amazing professors and students that have developed a world-class school of design; We benefited from those people that helped create our identity.

Winston Churchill said: “We shape our buildings: thereafter, they shape us.” How we look says volumes about us. But design is much more than buildings. It’s the way we design our community. Public gathering space so that people have the ability to interact. The impact of walkability on public health. Design is everything from web design to pharmaceutical design of drugs to biomechanical engineering to jewelry and fashion.

Raleigh is a great city by design — let’s build on that. Let’s call for great design in everything we do and what we become. Whether it is the “Southern Capital of Arts and Culture” or “North Carolina’s Axis of Cool,” Raleigh is designing the future.