State of the City Address 2014 – Coleman Wants All Columbus Residents To Share In The City’s Success

Bryan Curtiss, Writer

Sharing success was the theme of this year’s State of the City Address in Columbus. However, three barriers – homelessness, unemployment, and education, were the focal points of Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman’s 15th Annual State of the City Address on Wednesday night.

In what was a reality check for most people in attendance at the Battelle Grand Ballroom of the Greater Columbus Convention Center, the city’s homeless was one of the big topics of the State of the City Address, and Coleman made it a goal to "rebuild the lives of the homeless."

"Columbus is a community of stark and sobering contrasts. Some bask in the glow of our success while others struggle every day just to see the light," Coleman remarked about the homeless population in the city. Columbus has a high poverty rate, with some neighborhoods having over 30 percent unemployment rates. The Median Household Income for Columbus residents is $ 8,000 below National Average.

Coleman then told the struggles of two homeless people living in the Faith Mission Shelter while striving for a better life for themselves. One was of a technical worker who ended up homeless due to loss of income, and another was of a dislocated worker, who chose to stay in Columbus, rather than relocate to another city.

“Sharing our success means ensuring our residents have roofs over their heads and strong neighborhoods to live in,” Coleman said.

"Homelessness is becoming a bigger problem in this city than in this city's history," Coleman added. This winter alone, there have been an estimated 1,200 homeless residents in the city, with approximately 150 of them being turned away from overcrowded shelters, left to "fend for themselves".

Coleman proposed that $ 1.1 Million will be used to combat homelessness, partnering with the Community Shelter Board on the nation’s first case management system of customized intensive individual care.

The purpose of the case management system will be to help the homeless can find a job, find residence, find healthcare, find benefits, and find transportation. "We must find a way for the homeless to share in our city's success."

Unemployment was another big topic that was part of the speech, and the barriers to overcome unemployment were addressed.

"We must prepare our residents for success," Coleman remarked on getting Columbus residents prepared for the workforce.

Since 2000 (when Coleman first took office as the city’s mayor), 40,000 jobs have been created in Columbus. "We have a problem filling jobs." There are 20,000 jobs that need to be filled, and 23,000 people who are unemployed in Columbus.

60 percent of jobs need post-high school education, but only 33 percent of workers meet that criteria. 3,700 jobs were created in the city in 2013, with an annual payroll of $ 30,000,000. 6,000 new jobs are expected to be created in 2014.

Coleman announced a new consortium taskforce that will remedy the problem and to "martial the resources to meet the workforce needs". The FastPath initiative was launched. FastPath is a new program initiated by Columbus State Community College President Dr. David Harrison, where Columbus State will work with employers to identify where jobs are needed and provide workplace training and readiness for those looking for work.

Restoration Academy, a program that is a joint effort between the City of Columbus, the Civil Service Commission, and the Central Ohio Workforce Investment Corporation (COWIC) that helps ex-offenders find work, will expand from 15 people to 50 in 2014.

Education, in what was Coleman’s first big speech following the failure of the Columbus City Schools levy in November, was not a big piece of this year’s address, as opposed to last year’s State of the City Address at Columbus South High School. But, the major problems with early childhood education were discussed by Coleman.

“There is a big barrier, and that is the failure to prepare our children for our future,” Coleman said about the struggles that some school children have in the classroom. "Our schools are in crisis, and our children are in jeopardy."

Coleman added that only one-third of third graders can pass the required State Reading Test. Coleman cited other places like Denver, Tennessee, and Atlanta, where Pre-K students are prepared for the 3rd Grade Reading Tests.

"By failing to read, these children will be behind before they even start in life," Coleman said about the daunting low third grade reading scores. Coleman added that (an estimated) one out of three children attending Columbus City Schools enter school “unprepared”.

"Early Start Columbus" was launched at the State of the City Address. It will implement a plan for four year-olds to be ready for school. "We need to start early now with Early Start Columbus," Coleman said. The city will invest $ 5 million in getting Early Start Columbus started.

Rhonda Johnson was named the Director of Education for Columbus City Schools. Johnson's job will be to improve the education of our children, and serving a key role with the Columbus City School Board.

In other parts of Coleman’s State of the City Address, Mayor Coleman talked about Port Columbus, 2016, Living Close To Home, and Green Initiatives.

Coleman proposed a passenger rail route from Port Columbus to Downtown Columbus, citing the lack of public transportation from Port Columbus as a factor. Coleman also addressed the possibility of making Port Columbus a transportation hub, not just for flight.

“Housing Works” was implemented, as Mayor Coleman proposed $ 11 million in capital funds over the next five years to get Columbus residents to live close to where they work. The Downtown area was the key focal point of the Housing Works proposal, as there are 82,000 people who work in Downtown Columbus. However there are only 6,200 housing units in Downtown.

"We are one of the greenest cities in America," Coleman said, as he lauded the City’s Green Initiatives.

The city’s Green City Award-winning recycling program is expanding to 16,000 condos and apartments in the city of Columbus. Coleman proposed $ 2.5 Billion for a new initiative, BluePrint Columbus, that will revitalize neighborhoods in an environmental way, citing a new “green” park on the city’s South Side.

Tourism and landing major events to the Columbus region help Columbus gets its name out. One of the big tasks that Columbus tourism leaders are doing is to help the city pursue either the Democratic National Convention or Republican National Convention in 2016.

“By submitting a competitive bid, we are sending a message to the rest of the nation and the rest of the world that Columbus is ready for prime time. We are ready for Primetime," Coleman said to a loud applause.

”We become an even greater city when we seize the opportunity and share our success with all our residents,” Coleman said as he closed his 15th Annual State of the City Address.