WASHINGTON – After a disappointing year for the economic health of American cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors is looking forward to positive growth in jobs and the economy this year.
For three days, more than 280 mayors attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 82nd Winter Meeting plan to make the rounds in Washington, meeting with congressional leaders and federal agencies about municipal concerns.
By sharing information with federal officials, the meeting is designed to help the urban leaders with everything from attracting business to improving education. According to the Conference of Mayors, 90 percent of the nation’s wages, salaries and incomes come from cities and metropolitan areas.
“Clearly, the future of the national economy is directly related to the economic growth in our cities,” said Mesa, Ariz. Mayor Scott Smith, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Secretary of Commerce Penny Prtizker, who spoke at the meeting, commended the mayors for helping local businesses survive the recession.
“As a mayor, each of you is on the front lines of our country’s economic growth,” said Pritzker.
Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson said one of the benefits of mayors playing a major role in the national economy is the lack of political tension.
“As a conference, we stay above the partisan bickering that often happens here in Congress,” Johnson said. “We’re accountable to our constituents. We have to make things happen.”
As such, a lot of what goes on at the meeting involves mayors helping other mayors. While in Washington, the mayors’ have opportunities to attend workshops and task forces regarding local businesses, energy independence and transportation, among other topics.
While 97 of America’s 363 metro areas struggled with declining economies in 2013, the mayors’ conference predicts that nearly all of them will experience real economic growth in 2014. That forecast was released in the mayors’ conference’s January 2014 U.S. Metro Economies briefing.
The briefing also focused on unemployment and job growth. The national unemployment rate has decreased in the past few years, dropping from 10 percent in October 2009 to 6.7 percent December 2013. The Conference has higher hopes for the future, predicting the jobless rate will drop to 5.9 percent in 2015.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said sustaining that level of employment requires a reformed job growth strategy.
“We know that job growth is happening in our country, but we also know that far too many Americans are being left behind in this recovery,” Rawlings said. “So we have to be creative and innovative in the way that we create job opportunities.”
Pritzker suggested partnerships between the Commerce Department and local governments on employment reform, such as improving training efforts so that workers will have the skills needed to fit the needs of emerging businesses.
The mayors are ready to work towards these improvements, according to Mesa Mayor Smith, who said the winter meeting had “record attendance” despite several cancelled flights due to harsh weather.
“Mayors are not waiting for a top down approach,” Smith said. “We are very comfortable doing as much work as we can.”