Hartford 375: Recommitment to the State and Regionís Job Center
February 18, 2010
As Hartford celebrates its 375th anniversary, it is an opportune time to reflect upon our historic past and look forward to the future. Hartford is the center of commerce for a region of 1.2 million people, home to three Fortune 100 companies, the base for 200-plus Arts and Heritage organizations and, most importantly, the job hub of the region and state--- home to more than 100,000 jobs. Thatís the good news.
We are at a crossroads and the challenging economy only emphasizes that point. Hartford remains the third poorest city in the country. The reported unemployment rate for our residents is 14.1-percent and is almost double that if you include the discouraged and underemployed--- substantially more than the State unemployment picture of 7.9-percent. Hartfordís workers are younger, less prepared, and less affluent. However in the coming years, one-third of the workers in Connecticut will need to come from urban areas.
As the nation slowly emerges from these troubled financial times, we must look ahead and restart the regionís economic engines. Hartford is a critical piece of this puzzle. To accomplish this task, Hartford is emphasizing its priority goals, engaging the community in seeking solutions, and embracing new ideas and higher expectations. But we cannot do this alone. We need the support of the entire region and state to form a complete picture.
Letís first emphasize the importance of Hartfordís core vision for jobs through public safety, development, and education. Simply put, our focus on public safety is our best short-term answer to economic development and only education will secure our future as the regional job center. Hartford is aggressively addressing serious crime with our Neighborhood Policing Plan. We continue to bring the numbers down to historic lows but we can still do better--- not just with the troubling issues of homicide and domestic violence but also with perception. Downtown is one of the safest neighborhoods in our City and, by attracting and retaining businesses and developing housing and growing homeownership, we have put more feet on the street and must continue to demonstrate a greater sense of security.
The long-term solution to our success is educating our children. Education is the great equalizer in our society. When I was elected Mayor eight years ago, Hartfordís school system was under state control. I took on the challenge of chairing the Board of Education for three years and the School Building Committee to ensure the vision for our students would not be derailed. Recognizing that our children are the leaders of tomorrow, we implemented a mandatory school uniform policy, attracted a nationally recognized educator as Superintendent, and put into effect Reform/Choice policies.
I am extremely proud of the immediate success these changes have brought to our school system. We have raised academic standards and expectations, there are 13 newly constructed and renovated schools that provide a positive learning environment, and more students are on a college and career track. Two straight years of improved test scores, four nationally ranked high schools, and 100-percent improvement in reading skills reflect this achievement.
Education opens the door to opportunity and as a region we must embrace this vision if we are to compete in the global market. That is why it is so important that Hartford students are trained today for tomorrowís jobs. Yes, we are the Insurance Capital of the World, but the largest employment increase over the next ten years will be in education, health, green technology, science industries, construction and transportation. Hartford has positioned itself for growth and opportunity by having several of our neighborhood and magnet schools focus on math, science, technology, and education.
The goal is for our students to graduate from college and re-invest their skills here at home. But they need to come home to jobs. That brings us to our current job creation and retention efforts. The school building projects alone have created more than 1,200 jobs for Hartford residents; the construction of our Public Safety Complex could provide 800 jobs; the Arts Stimulus, which builds on our renowned arts and cultural strength is underway and expected to retain and create 350 employment opportunities; and Federal Stimulus money is funding a new class of 23 police recruits--- maintaining our positive momentum regarding community policing.
All of these elements are intertwined--- public safety in the short-term, education over the long haul and the business community being involved throughout by investing financially in our school system so that they can reap the rewards of a better prepared workforce. This will help sustain development in our neighborhoods and Downtown and grow the job hub. But to complete this formula for success, a commitment from the state and federal government to fund job-creating projects in urban centers must continue so that those without jobs--- without hope--- can once again be proud of being able to provide for their families. The region and the state can afford no less.