We hear variations of the phrase quite often: "Let's put people back to work."
The sentiment is simple and direct. There are few, if any, people who could give a reasonable rebuttal explaining why we should do anything to the contrary. Far too many of our neighbors, friends and loved ones have been without jobs for far too long. That is unfortunately true all over America.
Jacksonville is no exception. Unemployment stood at 11.2 percent when I took office July 1, 2011. I got to work immediately to realign city government and focus squarely on priorities that will build confidence in the private sector. One of my most important investments in our city's future costs just $1. That's right, the bill with George Washington's face on it.
To infuse new talent, energy and ideas into the governing process, I developed an executive-on-loan program through a number of meaningful partnerships with businesses and organizations. The agreement is simple. Some of the brightest minds in our city are getting paid absence time from their day job to work on my team and address our city's challenges. The city's end of the bargain comes as a simple, $1 administration cost.
This may seem like a tiny investment for a city with a nearly $1 billion annual operating budget, but it's a powerful investment because it is helping Jacksonville's local government branch out into key areas that are shaping a long-range jobs plan.
I have five executives on loan refining the city's focus on economic development while charting new ground for education and public-private partnerships. We are expanding the reach of city government with new offices to coordinate sustainable policy in each of those areas - at virtually no cost.
The executive-on-loan program at City Hall is helping at a pivotal time in Jacksonville's history, when pension obligations are on the rise and our revenues are still trying to rebound from the recession. In our upcoming fiscal year, we are looking at downsizing for the second year in a row. We needed an innovative solution to keep as many people as possible working on behalf of taxpayers without raising taxes or fees or compromising our budgetary reserves. Not just anyone, though -- we needed to bring on the brightest, most talented people to rebuild our economy and we needed to do it while shrinking the payroll.
We are in a challenging budget situation, but public-private partnerships like the executive-on-loan program are building a more sturdy foundation for our city's future. With the help of my economic policy team, my administration crafted legislation that cuts in half the wait time for businesses looking for the city's help to relocate or expand. The legislation passed our City Council by a unanimous vote after first gaining unanimous approval from the Florida Legislature and the governor's signature.
In crafting this plan, the city benefited from the tremendous insight from my executives on loan. One is an executive with the local Chamber of Commerce. The other is the head of the Jacksonville Civic Council, a nonpartisan group of business leaders. Both have the experience and the connections to know what's really going on in the business world and what City Hall can do better to attract jobs. In the past year, our city has already shed nearly three percentage points from the unemployment rate. With improvements to our economic development policy, we will be better equipped to continue converting this momentum into good-paying, career-driven jobs.
As we grow jobs, I am working hard to grow the workforce of tomorrow. That's where my education commissioner comes into play. He's on loan from Jacksonville University. Taxpayers benefit from having a seasoned educator who got his education from Stanford, MIT and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
This position holds no decision-making capacity over Jacksonville's public schools. It's an advocacy role -- completely new to our city -- that has been instrumental in pooling resources and developing new programs without any additional cost to taxpayers.
We have 600 new mentors working with public school students through my Mayor's Mentors program, a partnership with United Way, Big Brothers Big Sisters and a number of other organizations. We're also hosting more than 200 high school students on college campuses this summer through my Learn2Earn program. This program is meant to immerse students in the college experience -- with a focus on potential first-generation college students -- and inspire them to stick with their studies, finish high school with good grades and go on to pursue a higher education.
These are effective public-private partnerships that are making a difference in people's lives. To continue finding ways to leverage a greater return from our resources, I created the city's first Office of Public-Private Partnership, with my director serving as an executive-on-loan from Florida Blue. Her first big win came in landing an IBM Smarter Cities grant for an estimated $400,000 in consulting services to help revitalize Downtown Jacksonville. This is an investment in our future. Our Downtown in 1986 generated 17 percent of our property taxes. Today, it generates 2 percent. We are working hard to move businesses, residents and opportunity back into our urban center and let the private sector work for everyone in our city by increasing the value of the largest properties on the tax rolls.
The executives on loan are helping to set the tone. Despite challenging budget years, we are embarking on new opportunities and meaningful partnerships that will help the city grow responsibly and sustainably into the future. This is a significant step toward restoring economic security to our city so that we can address the pension issues, Downtown revitalization and job growth with a clear and confident mind that City Hall is not going it alone.
I've often said, "One city; one vision," to talk about the need for partnership. When we are all working together, our actions are held to a greater level of accountability and our ideas gain a more stable footing to focus on the future. Government plays a role. Business plays a role. Individuals play a role. We are, and will remain, stronger together.
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