National League of Cities – Congress of Cities Exposition
Last Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I joined local elected officials committed to economic development, shared prosperity, and efficient government approaches for the National League of Cities Congress of Cities and Exposition in Austin TX. Founded in 1924, the National League of Cities (NLC) has been at the forefront in supporting strong local leadership and ensuring that cities have the capacity and authority to build better communities. Last week’s sessions included discussions on the importance of data and innovation in communities, community branding and marketing, and attracting and retaining young adults and families to our community. Details of several of the breakout sessions follow:
1) Supporting Entrepreneurship– One of a city’s most important objectives is to enable an environment that creates jobs, triggers economic growth and generates local revenue. in today’s economy, many cities recognize the value in building entrepreneurship into the core of their platform, and are turning to entrepreneurs and high-growth start-ups to accelerate economic development. The session included a panel discussion from leaders in technology, civic investment and government entities who shared best practices for fostering entrepreneurship. A key takeaway I had was that many entrepreneurs are looking for places that have innovative markets, a good quality of life and monetary/community incentives. From what I learned at this session, I am proud of the progress Wisconsin Rapids is making in positioning ourselves to better meet entrepreneurial needs for incubation and acceleration. We are finalizing development and near a public launch of our GrowRapids web portal – a solution that seeks to provide information to budding entrepreneurs on market information, community resources and incentives available. Additionally, I will soon be working to form a Citywide Business Advocacy Team (CBAT)- a cross departmental team that will work collaboratively and serve as ‘problem solvers’ to minimize roadblocks or delays and help entrepreneurs start their businesses with less obstacles. First announced at this year’s State of the City Address, CBAT will be a team of advocates, inside City Hall, charged with proactively reviewing ordinances and policies to minimize delay and help to create business opportunities. In relation to quality of life, I have called for further investments into our City parks and increasing the quality of our city’s public spaces offerings, including assessing what our public aquatics offerings might look like in the near future. The quality of our public spaces is directly tied to the attraction of young adults/families, not to mention, increasing the quality of life for all residents. These are a great start, but there is more work that can be done. Entrepreneurs and small businesses are important to achieving greater economic prosperity; I will continue working to develop solutions to improve our current processes and better respond to their needs.
2) Open Government and Financial Transparency – Governments around the country have been faced with a challenge with increasing technology- how can we utilize technology trends to allow decision-makers to be more data-driven and efficient with decisions, and allow for residents to not only access information more easily, but in a form that is easily understood. With the 2015 City Budget being adopted last week, it felt timely to attend a session on increasing financial transparency and finding ways to make information more readily available to decision-makers and residents alike. Last week’s session explored what was referred to as the “government technology deficit” and how some communities around the country are utilizing technology offerings to make information more readily available and easy to understand. Using the City’s Executive Budget as an example: although we publish the budget and associated correspondence online on our City’s website, I recognize that more can be done to help plan for future years, and understand the constraints we operate within. The advent of online and cloud-based solutions can help save time, improve decision-making and information dissemination with constituents. The session was valuable for reinforcing what we are doing right for information transparency, but also for learning what opportunities exist for us to improve. I look forward to working in the future with our City’s Finance and IT department to explore some of the solutions that exist to continue to improve the way we make information available, both internally and externally.
3) Facilitating Meaningful Civic Engagement – In today’s society, local communities are in the midst of a major transformation in local governance that is changes the roles and expectations about how local government engages with residents to solve problems and take effective public action. Recognizing that effective engagement requires more than one-way communication, many municipalities are working to find strategies for joining with residents to collaborate in effective public problem-solving to find ways to help improve City services and solve community problems. Over my terms as Mayor, I’ve set a focus on improving the opportunities that residents- from youth to adults- have to become involved in community affairs. From the Mayor’s Council on Beautification, with its focus on visual improvement projects throughout the City, to Mayor’s councils on Sustainability and Youth, both near launching, there are many opportunities for people to be involved around “interest areas” to help enhance their City. Recently, we’ve also seen excellent resident engagement and feedback through the Pool Ad-Hoc Committee meetings, to focus on understanding the usage, and operational challenges of our current pool, and consider how to engage residents in dealing with aquatics in our community. Even with these opportunities available and upcoming in our community, we always recognize that more can be done. Last week’s session was a great opportunity to share of our successes, and learn from other municipalities what worked well and best practices for fostering meaningful civic engagement. I look forward to formally announcing additional opportunities to get involved in the near future!
Events such as the NLC Congress of Cities- by bringing municipal leaders from all over the country together- better establish creative solutions to real-world problems cities like ours face on a daily basis. It was beneficial to take part in the many conversations with Mayors on these very important topics and is encouraging to see that Wisconsin Rapids is on the right track in addressing some of the important topics facing all municipalities today..
This week, families will gather together around kitchen tables to celebrate Thanksgiving and create many new memories together. Much of the Thanksgiving season is about giving back to the community. As Mayor, each day I have the privilege to see firsthand the commitment, generosity and compassion of residents in our community who generously volunteer their time. In particular, I’d like to recognize those at the Neighborhood Table, an example of our community’s outstanding local charitable organizations, who will ensure this Thanksgiving season that those in need will have a warm meal to enjoy.
To all- a very safe, happy and memorable Thanksgiving weekend!,
Mayor Zach Vruwink