The following testimony was presented today on Capitol Hill by Carol Coletta on behalf of CEOs For Cities to the Saving America’s Cities Working Group, comprised of a group of House Republicans who support cities. Organized by by House Speaker Dennis Hastert and chaired by Congressman Mike Turner, former mayor of Dayton, Ohio, the group includes other House members who are former mayors and city officials, including Rep. Sue Myrick (Mayor of Charlotte, NC) and Rep. Kay Granger (Mayor of Fort Worth). Former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp chairs the Saving America’s Cities Advisory Committee and attended today’s meeting, and he was joined by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, now president and CEO of the National Urban League.
Carol joined 20 other representatives of national organizations, including the National League of Cities, the National Association of Home Builders, the American Institute of Architects, the Enterprise Foundation, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Association of Realtors, that National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, the Business Roundtable, the International Council of Shopping Centers and the National Low Income Housing Coalition. It was a remarkable demonstration of support for cities, an issue that has had almost no profile in Congress during the past five years.
Congressman Turner and members of the working group, thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak with you today. My name is Carol Coletta, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities.
CEOs for Cities is a national organization, headquartered in Chicago, dedicated to increasing the competitiveness of cities. Our membership is cross-sector, made up of more than 70 key urban decision-makers, including mayors, corporate CEOs, university presidents and foundation officials.
Contrary to the old idea of cities as places of deficit, as drags on our economy, our research shows that, in fact, it is our cities that will save America — because America’s best opportunity to prosper in a global economy is to strengthen urban competitiveness.
Cities are the places that generate the new ideas and new industries that help move our economy forward and help us compete in a global economy. Metropolitan areas are the new competitive units, containing 75-90 percent of the nation’s economic assets. The nation’s largest 100 metropolitan areas contain 80 percent of all U.S. employment and produce more than 80 percent of the nation’s Gross National Product. They also produce 86 percent of all federal tax revenue.
Cities are also the gateways to the global economy. These are the places where U.S. exports are sold and shipped, the flows of funds and trade are managed, and they are the meeting places, points of departure and destinations of international travel. They are also the immigrant gateways where the newest Americans begin building their lives.
Many of our important national problems — transportation, housing, and education, to name three — are all most felt, and can only effectively be addressed on a metropolitan scale. It is no longer the case, if it ever was, that the suburbs can flourish while the central city flounders – or vice versa. The prosperity of the different parts of all of our metropolitan areas is deeply interconnected, and so must be the solutions to these problems.
Let me give you three quick facts from our most recent research, then suggest four areas of focus that, we believe, will strengthen our cities, and thus, strengthen America.
Number one, we should focus on raising incomes for American families. Our research shows that for the first time in modern American history, population and income growth no longer tend to go together. Cities do not necessarily have to grow big to grow wealthy.
But cities do have to grow smart if they want to be wealthy. And that is point number two. Education levels are the single biggest driver of economic growth. But high school degrees are no longer enough. It is the presence of college graduates that drives economies. And we know that everyone benefits when our nation is the world leader in the creation of new ideas and innovative businesses by those college graduates.
The third point is that the proportion of particular racial and ethnic groups matters less to economic performance, but their segregation generally has negative effects on the economy. Income inequality also negatively affects economic performance.
In sum, our research shows that healthy, vibrant cities are key drivers for national economic growth. To increase urban competitiveness and, therefore, our nation’s competitiveness, let me suggest four areas in which we should concentrate our efforts:
First, we need to support the development, recruitment and retention of talent. The critical ingredient in a knowledge economy is fully developed human capital. Investments in education, research and job training are essential to our economic success, as are immigration policies that encourage study and work in the U.S. by internationals.
Second, we need to support the creation of new knowledge and new businesses. Cities are the most productive generators of research and development, well-educated workers and new businesses, so support for those activities should be focused in cities.
Third, we need to recognize that different cities have different assets and different opportunities. Distinctive city traits represent a reservoir of knowledge and ability that can be important in developing and extending local economic activities. One size policies and approaches definitely do not fit all, so flexibility and incentives that generate local market responses to problem-solving and to opportunities are needed.
Fourth, we need to recognize that an America full of have and have-not cities is a danger for our nation. As economic success now tends to concentrate in fewer cities, we must look for innovative new strategies for cities and citizens that the economy is leaving behind. Your support for programs such as new markets tax credits, community development block grants and the earned income tax credit continues to be crucial.
Our nation’s economy and our future prosperity depend on healthy cities. They’ll create the new ideas and businesses than drive our economy forward. They’ll be our connecting points to the global economy. We’ll tackle big national challenges more effectively by developing metropolitan-level solutions. And in the end, we’ll help all Americans have the means to build better lives.
We look forward to working with your working group an