State of the City: Fischer says status quo is unacceptable

Delivering his first State of the City address, Mayor Greg Fischer said Louisville must be better than a second-tier city to be relevant in the 21st Century and called for a new economic development vision to spur job growth and investment.

Speaking before the Downtown Rotary, Fischer acknowledged the city’s bleeding job market and delivered a sobering message, saying Louisville lost too many jobs over the last decade while competitor cities grew. During the hour-long speech, the mayor touched on a number of areas where improvements can be made, saying the city needs a cultural change and must act more boldly in the future.

“Those of who love Louisville  — as I do and you do — need honest dialogue about our strengths and our challenges,” he says. “We need to up our game, fire our competitive juices, we need a culture change — and I need your help in evolving that culture.”

In November, LEO Weekly reported on the “lost decade” that saw the city shed 34,600 private sectors jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Those losses represented a 5.5 percent decrease that was under way before  the recession of 2008 nearly tanked the nation’s economy. Responding to those troubling statistics, Fischer promised a “wholesale” review of the city’s economic strategy, including Greater Louisville Inc. — the city’s chamber of commerce — which has been heavily criticized as of late.

Faced with a stagnant economy, however, Fischer’s ambitious campaign promises and economic plans could face serious challenges with a projected $18 million budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year. The revenue forecasts for the 2011-2012 budget will include an additional $6 million cost due to retiree benefits approved by the state last year. The Fischer administration is also inheriting a decade-long legal battle between Metro government and a group of retired firefighters, who are owed more than $17 million.

Earlier this month, the Fischer administration warned the mayor’s first budget would be an austere one and the initial figures are reminiscent to the massive deficits that plagued former Mayor Jerry Abramson’s second term. In 2008, when the city faced a $20 million shortfall that resulted in hiring freeze, unpaid furloughs and 119 Metro employee layoffs.

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