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State of the City - 2018

State of the City - 2018

Thank you so much LaFrederick. I wanted a true creator to introduce me tonight--- and LaFrederick fits the bill. He has so much on his plate I don’t know when he sleeps. He’s there for the kids who need him, yet he’s also spearheading a project that will use art to help us remember and make sense of one of the most horrific acts in our history. For your leadership and role as a creator, thank you.

Next, I want to thank the most important people in my life -- my family. Monique, Hannah, and Orly are the best support system I could ask for. I couldn’t do this without them.

Seated by them are my parents, whom I admire so much, and my little brother, Cleavon Smith. Cleavon is working incredibly hard to knock it out of the park at the end of his sixth grade year, and I know he’s going to get it done.

To members of the City Council who are here tonight: it has been a pleasure to serve with you over the past year. You have pushed our City to be more transparent, open, and innovative. Chairman Ken Smith, Vice Chair Erskine Oglesby, Chip Henderson, Jerry Mitchell, Darrin Ledford, Russell Gilbert, Carol Berz, Anthony Byrd, Demetrus Coonrod -- thank you for serving your districts and our community with pride.

To Mayor Coppinger -- thank you recognizing the unique role that the city plays in moving our region forward. From your years as a fire chief, to your tenure as County Mayor -- you have been an advocate for Chattanooga, and I am proud to be your partner.

There are many other elected officials here tonight. I know how much you sacrifice to do your work. Thank you.

I also want to thank Ken and Byron Defoor and the entire Westin staff. The building where we sit tonight had been vacant since 2009, but Ken and Byron saw something more than an empty gold building surrounded by vacant storefronts. Their passion renewed an entire section of our downtown.
Through their vision, and in partnership with the City, we have built a public space that Chattanooga should be proud of. Thank you to the Defoors and the amazing team they have assembled for hosting us tonight and for investing in building a better Chattanooga.
There are also a number of volunteer board members and councils here tonight. The Mayor’s Council for Women, established at State of the City in 2015, has published numerous white papers, passed state legislation, and hosted a statewide policy conference with over 400 attendees. I want to thank you for your tireless work. To our other volunteers -- the Mayor’s Youth Council, the Mayor’s Council on disabilities, and many others -- thank you for making our City stronger through your advocacy and service.
To our first responders who are here and to those who are serving in our fire halls or patrolling our streets tonight -- thank you. Our firefighters have earned the highest the possible rating -- one that is shared by only one half of one percent of the departments in the country. It is a testament to the hard work you have put in this year. To our police officers, who continually put themselves between the community and danger -- thank you for your selfless service to our City.

Finally, to the other Chattanooga City employees who are here, I am privileged to serve alongside you. Every day you show up ready to break down the barriers that prevent people from living the life they want in our City. I hear regularly about you going out of the way to help a neighbor, to offer outstanding customer service, to find a way to do your job better. You inspire me with your commitment to service.

One of the best parts of being Mayor is the privilege of delivering the State of the City address. Every year, it is an opportunity to share a few minutes -- and yes, in some years, a lot of minutes -- to discuss where we’ve been, where we are, and where we need to go so that we leave tonight united in purpose.

As I thought about what to say this year -- in a time of rapidly growing economic prosperity and improving quality of life for most Chattanoogans -- it was clear that now was not the time to take a victory lap. Instead, now is the time for definition, to state clearly who we are, and who we are capable of being.

So here it is.

Chattanooga is a city of creators. It is at the core of who we are and who we want to be.
Our history is of creating places, products, and people. Chattanoogans who have driven progress have been, at their cores, creators. Take our products. More than a century ago, people thought sodas could only be dispensed at a fountain. A Chattanoogan showed the world you could take that carbonated drink, put it in a glass bottle, cap it off, and it would still taste like summer every time it was opened.

Today there are echoes of that spirit in our innovation district. There, creators are searching for the next great ideas and finding success. Whether it is moving furniture from apartment to apartment, helping businesses transport heavy shipments between continents, or writing software that enables companies to boost their sales -- our modern day entrepreneurs follow in the proud Chattanooga tradition of creators.

And then there are the places. Three decades ago, as I was graduating from high school, we had a city scarred by job losses and struggling to recover from the environmental devastation caused by the way we treated God’s bounty.

In response, Chattanooga’s leaders looked at our city through a deep and far-reaching visioning process, a model admired and replicated by communities everywhere. They were creators -- and they helped others in our community understand that they were creators too. Together, they started a renaissance in our city that continues today.
This story is familiar to us all. With the assistance of partners like River City Company, we started by making transformative changes at the waterfront, building a vibrant downtown, one that is rapidly expanding around us.

But this is only part of the story. Creators have also built out beautiful and vibrant neighborhoods throughout Chattanooga. Certainly, since I have been Mayor, we have witnessed remarkable growth and change. Just in the last year, we cut the ribbon on a new Southside Community Park, which was the vision of residents like Tony Hare, Rosemary Porter, and Terry McCullough, who, I want to proudly add, is a city Public Works employee. On our most recent MLK Day of Service, I stood side by side with Eastdale families as we painted a beautiful mural that now graces the Wilcox Tunnel. It joins another mural, in Milliken Park at 45th and Central, created through neighborhood input, which we unveiled with neighbors last December.

We’re also improving the corridors that connect our community. The rejuvenation of Martin Luther King Boulevard over the last few years is one great example, as creators have changed that district from the inside out and from the bottom up. Whether it’s the local stories told on the Southeast’s largest mural, the new businesses flourishing, or the apartments popping up everywhere, we are witnessing a transformation on this street.

A few weeks ago, after our repaving project was completed -- on-budget and ahead of schedule-- I strolled down the boulevard and was amazed by what I saw: people walking, visiting shops and restaurants. At every stop, someone told me about how great it was to be located on MLK Boulevard in 2018.

Our institutions are finding new life too. Befitting the change in our environmental story, the Chattanooga airport, which has grown from just over three hundred thousand tickets a few years ago to four hundred eighty-five thousand last year, will soon be the first net zero energy airport in the country, and one of only four in the world. And most of you have experienced the amazing makeover at the Tivoli and Memorial Theaters. A few years ago, in one of many great ideas to emerge from the Chattanooga Forward process, we transferred those assets from city government to a newly formed foundation. Since then, those venues have hosted a five hundred seventy percent increase in events and more than doubled the concession revenue.

Behind the numbers, though, are the many Chattanoogans dancing to a song they love; watching a musical they’ve been waiting for years to see; making a special memory with friends and family.

In every corner of our city, creators are making and remaking Chattanooga everyday. While products have aided our economic development and others cities hail our places, we should not forget the real source of these achievements: Chattanoogans -- young and old -- who were inspired to dream, to build, to disrupt the status quo. And I’m not just talking about artists and tech moguls.

At the Mayor’s Youth Council last week, I watched Jymon Scott play a video he had made about child support. This young man had interviewed mothers, fathers, and attorneys, so he could teach his peers about child support obligations and the ramifications for failing to pay it. Jymon is a creator.

Or Rachel McClellan and Ash Robinson. As young moms, they decided to start their own business leading yoga and exercise classes for the mothers of newborns. In those first few months after giving birth, a mom could bring her stroller to a park and do some stretching and working out, and, by the way, meet a couple of peers who might one day give crucial support and advice. Rachel and Ash are creators.

There’s 9 year old -- that’s right, 9 year old -- Mikayla Sanders, who founded the Black Inventors Traveling museum, which showcases how African American inventors have affected everyday life. Man, do I feel like a late bloomer. Her exhibit now tours so others can experience it. Mikayla is a creator.

There are Kevin Adams, and Doug Fairbanks, and Ternae Jordan, and Brad Whitaker, and Susie Tendler, and Carlos Williams, and many, many others, whose pews I have sat in, taking in their sermons, mixing the Bible, homespun wisdom, and music into an amazing message. These faith leaders are all creators.

There’s Donna Chambers. Donna’s grandson suffers from autism, and she read that weighted blankets could help comfort him. So she made one for him and -- when her grandson loved it -- realized others could benefit from the same thing. Donna was living in a mobile home in Lookout Valley, not dreaming of building a business empire, but she wanted to help others in the same situation. She put up a website to take orders for weighted blankets and forgot about it. Soon, though, the orders began piling in, she grew from a one person operation in her home to a seventeen employee small business called SensaCalm.
Donna is a creator.

There’s the Baby University mom -- let’s call her Janel. Janel suffers from depression, but our Baby U specialist started her with a therapist, where she’s working to express her thoughts and feelings. She’s been reluctant to seek a job because she doesn’t have work appropriate clothes. Baby U stepped in and made sure she had 3 interview-ready dresses. Having gained some confidence, Janel applied for a job, nailed the interview, and now proudly goes to work each day. For herself and for her baby, Janel is most certainly a creator.

I could go on and on. Here’s the point. In every nook and cranny of our city, far and wide, there are creators. Jymon, Rachel, Ash, Kevin, Mikayla, Janel, and Donna -- they are educating their peers, building new businesses, linking people with their faith, transforming families and fortunes, creating life-changing opportunities. They’re resourceful, they’re efficient, they’re decisive, and they’re moving our city forward.

After all, creativity isn’t an entitlement, and it isn’t handed to you when you’ve got all the resources in the world. To the contrary -- and as people in this city know all too well -- creativity is revealed in the wisdom and in the work ethic of people who feel a responsibility to do big things -- no matter what.

But even those amazing people often don’t recognize that power that lies within. Today, if we asked Jymon and Rachel and Doug whether they think of themselves as creators, I don’t know what they would say. As a city, let’s make sure that tomorrow they know they are.

Because when we think of ourselves as creators, we understand we possess the power to change our lives and our city. Creating is not someone else’s responsibility; it belongs to each of us. But our creativity is not static. With purpose and intention, we can empower every Chattanoogan.

How do we do that? We put our money -- and our efforts -- where our mouths are.

Take affordable housing. Right now our economy is thriving. Last year we created new jobs at double the national average. Our unemployment rate is lower than the country’s as a whole, and our wage growth is one of the highest in the nation for a mid-sized city. That means even those at the bottom of the economic ladder are doing better, which is why we are at our lowest level of poverty in more than a decade.

I’m proud of Chattanooga’s success and I’m eager to see things get even better. But I know all this positive news also means costs continue to rise. If you have been left out of our growing prosperity, you are falling even further behind.

So we are taking action on a number of fronts. A few years ago, at State of the City, I announced a goal to end veterans homelessness in Chattanooga, and last year we became one of the few cities to achieve it. So earlier this year we formed a new Interagency Council on Homelessness to use what we’ve learned to tackle the broader problem.

One lesson is clear: our community needs more affordable housing, particularly near our job centers. Federal and state governments continue to reduce funding that cities use to make affordable housing possible, leaving us with fewer avenues to build more units. The problems haven’t gone away, but the money has, leaving places like Chattanooga in a lurch.

It is time for our city to do more.

A city of creators understands we need housing that connects our residents to opportunity. To make sure more units are constructed, city government will launch a new affordable housing trust and seed it with one million dollars. This investment will significantly expand our existing resources aimed at affordable housing. As more people feel the security that comes from having an affordable place to call home, where they can make it to work and back in a reasonable time, we can grow incomes and career paths in our city.

As part of that push to prosperity, we will need the jobs of tomorrow. That’s a central reason why I announced we would form a new Innovation District at State of the City in 2014.
Over the last several years, the Innovation District has become one of the great modern Chattanooga success stories.Entrepreneurs, artists, non-profits, students -- even the occasional government employee -- all of them are collaborating in the blocks around the Edney. A fully reimagined and restored Miller Park is set to open soon, bringing even more vitality to the heart of our city.

I believe we are seeing only the first stage in what the Innovation District can do for Chattanoogans; we still have tremendous potential for growth. Some terrific regional institutions are stepping up to the challenge: EPB -- one of the best, most progressive utility companies in the world under David Wade at the helm. UTC -- which under Chancellor Angle’s leadership is rising to new heights and investing in key areas like smart cities. Oak Ridge National Lab, which chose the Innovation District to open the first office outside a national lab campus in the country.

We know we can do more.

That’s why we put together a plan to take the Innovation District to the next level. After dozens of meetings with hundreds of stakeholders and public input, a clear vision for the future emerged. Anyone can see the plan we developed on the Enterprise Center’s website.
A key component of our strategy is equity. Innovation runs on talent, which develops in our city when given the chance. While we certainly welcome the many people moving here, we also want homegrown Chattanoogans filling the high paying jobs that are opening up here. That means everyone should feel at home in our Innovation District -- not just coders and developers -- a point brought home forcefully in the plan.

A city of creators makes bold plans -- and then we execute on them. That’s why we will begin working immediately on the proposal to use the buildings and lots owned by city government in service of a growing, inclusive Innovation District. For example, one lot was identified as a potential site for low income housing, another as additional space for new companies. While we will put many of the plan’s recommendations into action, this first step shows city government will certainly do its part to make sure Chattanoogans can participate in the economy of the future.

The people who build houses and companies are often thought of creators -- but those patrolling our streets right now are also creating a better Chattanooga by ensuring more neighborhoods feel safe.

Over the last few years, we have made great strides in reducing violence. Much of our success comes from important investments in our police department. At a record high of 500 sworn personnel, we now have more capacity to build up our gun-reduction and intelligence units.

We have also upgraded our technology, and our Real Time Intelligence Center -- announced at State of the City in 2016 -- is being put to good use, helping us identify perpetrators of violence.

While much of the public safety responsibility falls on our officers, we don’t leave it to them alone. Our Citizen Safety Coalition meets regularly to take good intentions and turn them into action. Whether it is getting churches involved or a sponsoring a neighborhood basketball game, an approach that involves everyone creates a safer city in the long run. That same idea has led us to a more victim centered approach to law enforcement. Our police officers spend more time than ever caring about what happens to victims after a crime is committed. Through the Family Justice Center and our Community and Police Response to Victims of Violence, we turn victims into survivors.

More sworn officers and technology. A department set up for success. Community involvement. Support for victims. These enhancements make the Violence Reduction Initiative as effective as possible. VRI started with the idea that there are no bad streets or bad neighborhoods. Instead, there are a small number of people causing much of the gun violence in our city, and we should focus on them. It’s paying off.

Last year our gang shootings were down thirty percent; in the first quarter of this year, they are down more than thirty percent again. We saw zero murders in the month of March; last year we went more than sixty consecutive days without a homicide. Recently, while pursuing an investigation into one gang, our police department was able to clear six unsolved homicides in one week. These are tremendous accomplishments.

However, there remains too much conflict in our city and our country, damaging far too many lives.

A few years ago, we witnessed a mass shooting that claimed the lives of five American heroes. Unfortunately, our community is not alone in experiencing the tragic impact of hate. Last summer in Charlottesville, the year before in Orlando -- the list goes on and on. The FBI recently released a report showing hate crimes are up nationally. I wish I could say our state is the exception, but the numbers in Tennessee reflect the necessity of tackling this problem. Our state ranks ninth in total number of hate crimes in the US.

This hits us all at home, too. I have two teenage daughters, and, like all parents, Monique and I worry about the hate that lights up across smartphones on a minute by minute basis.

A city of creators will find new ways to combat hatred, especially when it leads to violence and tears apart the social fabric of our community. The solutions will come from purposeful discussion and pragmatic action.

To prompt solutions over conflict, I am announcing a new council against hate. The council will define the scope of the problem and push new ideas to stop violence. After July 16, 2015, our city was held up as a model of how to respond to terrorism. We can also be a model of how to stop the hate that inspires it in the first place.

Building this kind of city never stops. For us to continue to have the future generations necessary to drive our civic, cultural, and economic life, we must invest in families and the young creators they nurture.

For the past few years, Chattanooga has been at the forefront of creating an entirely new kind of early learning system. Not a scattered program here and there -- instead, a comprehensive way to help children get off to a great start.

Our office of early learning has overseen a number of critical investments. One standout has been Baby University, which I also announced at a past State of the City. This keystone initiative helps families find solutions because when moms and dads have more time, resources, and knowledge about how to help their children, their sons and daughters are better off.

Just a couple quick facts show you what a difference it makes. Of the 154 families who have enrolled, not one has suffered infant mortality. 29 percent of families were self-sufficient in employment when they started; now 63 percent are. And we have had 29 teen moms sign up after they got pregnant. While the national dropout rate for teen moms is 47 percent, every single Baby U teen mom -- has graduated or is on track to.

We know a lot of Chattanooga families are caught in the middle-- making too much money to qualify for state aid but not enough to pay for early learning themselves. For them, we created early learning scholarships so that their children would not have to miss out. When our standout partners like Chambliss Children’s Center have looked to expand, we have supported them.

We have focused intently on improving the quality of our Head Start programs, and we’re seeing great results there too. As we invest in teacher education and a top notch curriculum, these kids have experienced greater gains in literacy and math, giving them a much stronger likelihood of success.

A city of creators invests in the next generation and the families that support their growth. When all families are stronger and children in every zip code have a fair shot, we will all enjoy a more resilient and more prosperous future.

That’s why tonight, I am setting a new goal. Between now and the time I leave office, we will create 1000 additional high quality early learning slots in our city.
To achieve this outcome, we all need to work together. We have terrific partners in Chattanooga 2.0, and we will need their help. This year’s budget will include some specific plans for creating new slots for kids in our community as well as turning some existing ones into high quality options for parents.

I know we can do it. It’s the success story of our city.

Chattanooga has accomplished so much since I was kid. We are celebrated for our products and places, and we should be recognized for our people as well.
But a city of creators is not passive, and we don’t rely on others to do the work for us. Creation is power. When we realize that we all possess that power -- and we are intentional about what we can do with it, in our homes, in our churches and schools, in our workplaces and neighborhoods -- we can accomplish anything. This is what Chattanooga does. This is who Chattanoogans are.

I have seen it in action, and so have you. And not only in a few people who are justifiably recognized for their investment, encouragement and hard work in making great things happen in our city.

But the spirit, drive and determination of Chattanoogans exists everywhere, in every neighborhood, of every race, gender, income, and sexual orientation; in the firefighters, teachers, activists and neighborhood leaders who fill this room; in the young children you may see at home when you leave tonight, and in the people taking care of them while you’re gone.

After all, creation is at our core. Tonight, I am reminded of the first sentence of the Bible: In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. God is the creator. And we are all created in his image. So when we proclaim ourselves as a city of creators, we claim a higher purpose. Not solely to create a great city, but to unleash the creative will and capacity of his entire creation.

So over the next year, ask yourself how you can build and invest in a city of creators. You’ve heard a few ideas tonight from me, but there is much more we can do to inspire our fellow Chattanoogans. Leading up to this speech, I have listened to many ideas from the community about how to expand a city of creators. Over the next few months, we will share this message in every neighborhood and among every family and every person.

All of us are creators, made in God’s image. The state of our city is strong because of you. We will be at our best when each and every one of you feels the power and potential of your awesome abilities.

Thank you.


City of Chattanooga
Mayor's Office
101 E. 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37402
Phone: (423) 643-7800

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