Mayor Dave Cieslewicz gave his annual "State of the City" address at the Madison Rotary Club monthly luncheon Wednesday, trying to strike a balance between both somber warnings and confidence in city leadership.
"We're in the worst economic recession since the Great Depression," Cieslewicz said, pointing out that unemployment is at 5% in the city and property values increased only about 1% (in recent years, it's grown 8-10%).
But the mayor also expressed optimism for the future, as when he pointed to proposals to rebuild Madison's central library: "We can either respond by turning inward and being cautious or by being bold and aggressive." A new library will serve residents for decades, he said, and be a symbol for the city.
Cieslewicz identified some fresh goals: Making city government more business friendly, growing high-tech industries, competing as a region but cooperating at home, building the city's image as an arts and tourism destination, building on the natural and neighborhood assets, and showing that the city can be both progressive and business friendly.
The version of the mayor's speech to the Rotary Club was shorter than his written version, and with a few jokes added. The theme of both versions was economic development, but he seemed to drive these points a little harder in the version to the Rotary Club. The mayor clearly knows how to work a given audience.
Cieslewicz agreed with President Barack Obama's call for a new type of economy, stressing green technology, health care and education.
"We cannot afford to recover back to an economy based on so many unsustainable foundations," he said, in the written version. "If the old economy was based on consumption; the new economy should be based on production. If the old economy was based on spending beyond our means; the new economy should be based on savings. If the old economy was based on over reliance on fossil fuels; the new economy should be based on environmental sustainability."
He pointed out the work of Tim Cooley, the city's new economic development director. ("He did move here from California in February. We tested his sanity. He's fine apparently," the mayor joked.) He talked about how the city was revising its zoning codes and developing a downtown plan.
Cieslewicz also trumpeted efforts at transforming the local economy through the BioAg Gateway and establish Research Park II. He said the city has to work with surrounding communities to compete with areas like Des Moines, Iowa, and Minneapolis for job growth. Cooperative efforts like establishing a Regional Transit Authority and high-speed rail will make the region more competitive and a better place to live.
Perhaps in an homage to Earth Day, the mayor heralded the region's bicycle economy. "We should remember that bicycles are not just toys. The bike industry brings in $1 billion to the Wisconsin economyfour times more than snowmobiles," he said. "And Madison is the center of much of it. Trek, Syrus, Planet Bike, Pacific Cycle and other companies employ hundreds."