In case you missed it, I wanted to share our State of the City with you.
Thank you to our sponsors, and our host—the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. It was a wonderful event.
I also want to share a big “thank you” to your City Council. We are a strong team, and I’m proud to work with each and every one of them. Each of these Councilmembers deserves to continue their service to this city. And, I have to recognize Councilmember Sal Espino, who has decided not to run for re-election. Thank you, Sal, for more than 10 years of outstanding service to this city. We will miss you…I also need to recognize our City Manager, David Cooke, our city leadership and all of our city employees. They are all superstars!
It’s an honor of a lifetime to serve as Mayor of my hometown, and I also need to thank my family for allowing me to do this. They sacrifice a lot. Finally, thanks to all of you—the citizens of Fort Worth. The people are the reason Cowtown is the envy of the country!
Since being elected in 2011—and with your support—we’ve made a real and positive difference!
You may remember that when I took office in 2011, Fort Worth was reeling from several years of cutbacks as a result of the great recession. Those were difficult days—furloughs…service cuts…fee increases… and Mayor Mike Moncrief had begun the hard work of addressing them. Thanks to this City Council, our city leadership and your support—we rose above those challenges.
We made a difference by ensuring fiscal responsibility at City Hall. The city budget is in check, revenues aligned with expenses without using our reserve. We continue to add cash funding for important capital projects. And we lowered the city property tax rate for the first time since 2008! We’ve made great progress with pension reform, and we continue to tackle this tough issue head on. There is still more work to be done, but we are very fortunate not be in the same position as our neighbor to the east!
We made a difference by engaging citizens and businesses to lead positive change. We leveraged private dollars for public good—public pools, parks, youth initiatives and more. Our businesses stepped up to help us build our healthy city initiatives, including BlueZones and FitWorth. Both of these programs are moving forward. Not only do I love doing the “Nae-Nae” with the kids—but getting them moving is working! This past year we saw a 6 percent decrease in children’s obesity rate!
Also, our young leaders of SteerFW continue to build new ideas that will shape our future. One of our very first Steer classmates, Jason Brown, is now running for school board. And we are finding more time to engage with citizens. We’ve reached an audience totaling more than 60,000 in both Spanish and English Twitter town halls along. You may have also seen us in one of 23 rolling, walking or caffeinated town halls.
We made a difference by nurturing sustainable growth. The overall crime rate is down, and we finished a state-of-the-art Police and Fire Training Center. Next week, we will break ground on the Sixth Police Division that will serve far north Fort Worth. Over the past several years we have been encouraging central city urban redevelopment. And we have added smart policies to accommodate our rapid growth outside the loop. We’ve also supported major transportation projects like Chisholm Trail Parkway. And we continue to focus on transit. You will soon be enjoying TEXRail that will be taking passengers to and from DFW Airport. A special thanks to The T and Congressman Marc Veasey on this important project.
So here we are today—and the State of our City is very strong!
My vision for the future is still for Fort Worth to be the most livable, healthiest, best-educated and fiscally responsible and well-managed city in the country. But friends, while our blessings in Fort Worth are unmatched—in order to continue that trend, we simply have to look at the future.
The growth…the change…the challenges ahead are many. Whether you call it Cowtown, Panther City, Funky Town or just the Fort, we are growing like gangbusters! The growth is a blessing, but it’s also the challenge of today that will define our tomorrow. Just as we fought through the turbulence of high crime rates and the base closure in the late 80’s and 90’s, or the 2000 tornado ripping through our city—Fort Worth always comes out stronger through all our ups and downs.
So what will Fort Worth be like in year 2025 and beyond? Eight years is a mere heartbeat in the life of a city. But in those 8 years, major changes happen that impact our future. And it’s up to us to have a vision for those changes. Let’s talk about my vision for the city in 2025 and beyond.
In 2025, I envision a Fort Worth:
- that is world renowned as a safe, friendly, active and an innovative community.
- that finds strength in the diversity of its people, its industry and its neighborhoods.
- has a strong urban core, a diverse transportation network, and whose infrastructure is optimal.
- has a strong public school system, aligned with local communities and business needs to create opportunity for all students.
Making this vision a reality won’t happen by accident—it will happen by design, hard work, unity and determination! Let’s consider where Fort Worth is now and where we are going…
Again growth is the most significant challenge we face today. We add a new resident every 24 minutes! That’s 420 people a week—and most of you in this audience believe all those people are all on I-35! We are the 16th largest city in the nation today, and expect to be number 14 by the next census. Urban migration is happening all across America, and Fort Worth is leading the pack. It’s not us “card carrying AARP members” who are flocking here. Fort Worth is now the youngest big city in Texas. The average age is now 31.6.
We’re becoming increasingly diverse. Here in Fort Worth, the racial breakdown is 42 percent white, 34 percent Hispanic, almost 19 percent African-American, and 6 percent other nationalities. Our shifting demographics are most pronounced when you look at our grade school kids. They are 70 percent non-white compared to those 55 to 64 who are 54 percent white. We are also rich in language and culture. More than 60 different languages spoken by students in the Fort Worth ISD alone.
Along with the shift in demographics, we must be honest about the current poverty rate. Today, in Fort Worth, 19 percent of our citizens live in poverty. When it comes to poverty, unfortunately, Fort Worth is higher than both the U.S. and Texas average. This is unacceptable. Fort Worth can and must do better. This is not just a government issue, it is not a partisan issue—it is a community issue that all of us should be concerned about and working to address together. It is simply the right thing to do.
Considering these demographic changes…Considering the growing demand for city services and the threat of uncontrolled urban sprawl…Considering the strain on our public schools and the need for a competitive workforce…We need to ask ourselves, “What actions and what decisions are needed today to create the future we envision?”
This year, I’m going to talk about three main themes that come out on top:
- Improving the vitality of struggling neighborhoods.
- Bringing new investment and jobs where they are needed most.
- Investing in our children.
First, we must improve the vitality of struggling neighborhoods. Despite all the positive development in our city, some of our historic neighborhoods continue to struggle. Let’s talk about one example—Historic Stop Six in southeast Fort Worth. Stop Six is home to 18,000 citizens. The schools in this area only have a 51 percent graduation rate, and the unemployment rate is 21 percent, compared with the city’s overall unemployment rate of just under 4 percent. Seventy-eight percent of the Stop Six population is categorized as low to moderate income.
Considering the bright lights in downtown, West 7th, Camp Bowie, Magnolia and others— the question is, why does Stop Six continue to struggle? Of course, there are a lot of factors involved. But more than anything, we need a true partnership and a determination by the entire city to help turn the tides. Listen, when we want something to happen, when we unite, when we focus our collective energies—we can accomplish great things!
So, what makes a strong neighborhood? Affordable housing. High-performing schools. Safe streets. Access to healthcare. These are some of our goals that have been identified for a focused Neighborhood Improvement Strategy for Stop Six. We plan to invest more than $2.5 million in a pilot program for the area. Our aim is to use this targeted investment to dramatically increase the vitality of the neighborhood.
Working alongside Stop Six residents and councilmembers, needs are being identified and the work has begun. We are mowing and clearing foreclosed properties, clearing 27 miles of right of way and removing trash and debris and installing new street lights and security lights. We are also emphasizing community policing with a new Fort Worth PD bicycle patrol in the area. Additionally, we are making plans for 10,000 feet of new sidewalks and we are making street improvements throughout the area.
It’s my expectation that this focus on Stop Six is the beginning of a renewed focus on all of east Fort Worth. Things are happening on the east side of I-35, and developers are finally taking notice of the vacant land and areas ripe for redevelopment. Just consider the success we’ve had over the last several years. Top Golf is underway just east of downtown. The apartments off Oakhurst Scenic are taking shape, and great new restaurants and shops along Race Street are already open. The Firestone & Robertson Distillery at the site of the former Glen Garden Country Club is well underway. And, look at the great work all around Texas Wesleyan University—who knew they would start football again! Go Rams! We can’t stop here. This must be a sustained focus to raising the vitality…the pride…of ALL our neighborhoods.
The second part of our focus in 2017 will be to encourage new investment and jobs where they are needed most. I have to tell you—as a former tax assessor and business owner, some tax incentives give me a headache! Sure, there are great tax incentive plays to make, and Fort Worth has done a remarkable job of being smart with incentives tied to real results. However, we must make better use of incentives to encourage new investments that will help us realize our vision for the future. We need quality, contiguous development throughout the city. It’s about efficient delivery of city services…it’s about mobility and connectivity…it’s about a balanced tax base.
We will focus on our inner city and bring the right investment and business to our urban core, while still maintaining our ability to grow outward. Right now, Fort Worth’s economic development team is leading a comprehensive strategic planning process. This plan will have a focus of where we utilize our incentive tools to bring the best jobs. Our strategic economic development plan for the central city will include:
- Corporate recruitment
- Workforce development and education
- More targeted focus on higher paying jobs
- And international business development initiatives
I expect this new economic development strategy to be considered by the City Council this summer. And let me make it clear that we’re not just focused on big business—we’re just as focused on small businesses, which continue to prosper throughout the city. Just look at the terrific small businesses we honored here today. Some of them were clients of our Business Assistance Center that counseled more than 330 small business owners last year. Or, maybe they found their recipe for success as entrepreneurs through TECHFW or with investment from the Cowtown Angels. Our economic development portfolio must be a mix of big business and industry with the right support for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
The third major focus for 2017 will be investing in our children. Our vision for a bright and prosperous future must be firmly planted in our education system. An education system that is exemplary for EVERY child regardless of their zip code. It’s no longer acceptable to say education is not our responsibility. The city and business community must come to the table and be true partners—something this city has never done collectively on a broad scale. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Education is economic development.
By 2020 – 65 percent of all American jobs will require education beyond high school. Not necessarily a college degree, but some credential post high school. When it comes to educational attainment, we have some incredible bright spots in Fort Worth. But we also see achievement gaps that we have a responsibility to address.
There are countless business owners in the room today. How are you going to fill the jobs of tomorrow? This country was built on strong public education. It’s a reality is that our public schools need us—and we need them! And we all need to recognize that supporting high-performing charter schools, and partnerships with our private schools should be included.
So, how can you help? You can join us and the Fort Worth Literacy Partnership! Last fall, I joined forces with Superintendent Kent Scribner and our philanthropic community to create this partnership. The goal is 100 percent of third-graders reading on grade level by 2025. Why third grade? It’s the best predictor of their future success. I want to thank Matt Rose, executive chairman of BNSF Railway, who courageously agreed to lead this effort. A dozen Fort Worth leaders have joined together to form Matt’s Executive Council, and that group is just getting started. We’re going to make a real and positive difference—and I believe it will directly impact the ability for our children to successfully compete in the workforce of tomorrow.
We are just getting started, and we have taken important first steps on the journey from cradle to third grade literacy. Much work is underway, including 20 partner agencies and institutions that have come together to figure out how to best prevent “summer slide” or loss of knowledge.” The City is included in this—making sure all summer youth programs that receive city support include a literacy component. Heck, we even tied FitWorth in with a literacy component. And we also added a literacy focus to Crime Control and Prevention District grants.
Let me encourage all business leaders in the room today to ask yourself some tough questions: What have you done to encourage employees to build formal relationships with local public schools? Do you give parents the opportunity to meet with their child’s teacher or volunteer at their child’s school? Please don’t leave this lunch today and brush this off. I’m asking everyone here today to head back to the office, have a real discussion with your leadership team, and chart a path to get formally engaged with a local school and its students—just as Frank Kent answered the challenge five years ago with their senior car giveaway. I recently spoke to Sewell Lexus about education, and they were so motivated they now have 52 trained readers volunteering in the school. You can do the same. What a difference we could make!
Dr. Scribner will be waiting to take your call! Your involvement is critical and will make a difference for these kids, but it will also be a blessing for your employees and your company. In the year 2025, I want us to recall this day as the day when we committed to making Fort Worth ISD the best urban school district in the country.
Again, our focus for 2017 is three-fold:
- Improving the vitality of struggling neighborhoods.
- Bringing new investment and jobs where they are needed most.
- Investing in our children.
Along with these three main items, we continue to focus on many other current needs:
We’re delivering on the 2014 bond projects you wanted to see…libraries, police and fire stations, parks and transportation projects. You spoke, we listened and we are delivering! And this council is committed to planning expansion of all transportation options. I know these construction projects are frustrating—but remember, we have our eye on 2025 and beyond!
We are also committed to tackling complicated issues like homelessness. Because this is such a critical challenge, I have asked that the Direction’s Home program now report directly to the City Manager’s office. Join us on March 30 for a joint meeting between the City Council and the Advisory Commission on Ending Homelessness as we listen to citizens and hear about proposed changes.
I mentioned we are a young city, but our population of baby boomers is growing as well. We may not be bar hopping on West Seventh, but we want Fort Worth to be a great place for all ages. For our aging population, we need to provide safe and walkable streets, better housing and transportation options and access to key services for all residents.
We are also delivering on the open space that citizens are asking for. Fort Worth now has nearly 12,000 acres of parkland with 273 parks. Marquee projects like Gateway Park and ZBoaz Dog Park are wildly successful! We have 66 total miles of existing trails and 14 miles of trails in design or construction. Look no further than those trails on one of our beautiful sunny days. We will not slow down on building a healthy, active city.
We will continue to stretch every tax dollar so we are the best managed city in the country. We will maintain our focus on strengthening public safety capacity. And right now we are working with our legislative friends in Austin to share with them what we hear from citizens.
Also, we will keep up the momentum by Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote Fort Worth as an exciting tourism destination. In keeping with our growing sports tourism, Fort Worth will host its own ironman and half-ironman tri distance with the TriFort Worth on May 21. I’m in for the relay, and you too can compete or volunteer!
My staff may not let me have SnapChat, but we will continue to push the boundaries on citizen engagement. We’re even going to get high school students in on the conversation this year. The city’s getting younger, remember? And, on the subject of citizen engagement, the importance has never been more evident: We must lead meaningful conversation about building stronger neighborhoods and police relationships. These must be built on trust, compassion, equity and understanding. Our hearts and minds are open, and we will come out stronger.
I’m excited about our future. We have a lot to be thankful for in Fort Worth—a rich history and tremendous opportunity. We understand and accept the challenges before us. We all have a vision. And we understand the decisions that will steer us toward that vision in 2025 and beyond.
Remember, eight years in the city is just a heartbeat, but look at where we will be in eight years. In 2025:
- Our Multipurpose Arena at Will Rogers will be six years old.
- TEXRAIL will be the mode of choice for getting to DFW airport.
- Our Frost Bank Tower will be another notable part of our downtown skyline.
- And finally, after 20 years of vision and planning, the Trinity River Vision will be a reality and completely transform Fort Worth, including a 33-acre lake surrounded by a beautiful boardwalk. The project will provide extensive flood protection and allow us to virtually double the size of downtown with a canal backdrop. We owe a debt of gratitude to our Congresswoman Kay Granger for her persistence and tenacity on this project!
A positive vision is being shaped for all our city! Let’s make it happen!