Creating a climate that allows businesses to thrive and improving Indianapolis’ neighborhoods will be critical to the city’s future success.
That was the message Mayor Greg Ballard conveyed Thursday night in his fourth-annual State of the City speech, delivered at the Indianapolis Artsgarden downtown.
In his 30-minute address, Ballard, a first-term Republican, made his case that the city already has built an environment conducive to economic development. He said the city has a strong fiscal position, including a AAA bond rating, and has avoided income-tax increases because of 5 percent budget cuts for most city departments over the last three years.
He also touted Indianapolis’ job-creation record, saying the city landed a record 8,700 job commitments last year.
“Our aggressive pursuit of economic opportunities is moving Indianapolis forward, but we must remain vigilant,” Ballard said. “As companies and workers adapt to the ever-changing business climate, so must we as a city.”
To do that, Ballard cited two initiatives.
He has commissioned a panel of about a dozen national experts to come up with a plan for redeveloping the GM metal-stamping facility west of downtown, which is slated to close June 30. Meanwhile, the effort to find a new industrial tenant for the site is ongoing.
He also mentioned the city’s push – evident in recent ads in Illinois newspapers – to target business from other cities to move to Indianapolis.
Democrats, however, say the economic picture in Indianapolis isn’t so rosy.
Brian Williams, an Indianapolis businessman speaking for the Marion County Democratic Party, said according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the city has lost 9,000 jobs in the last year. And he points out that the 8,700 jobs Ballard cites are merely commitments.
“Those may or may not come to fruition a year or two years from now,” Williams said.
The numbers Williams cited could not be immediately verified. Indianapolis’ unemployment rate was 9.2 percent in December, the most recent month for which data are available.
He also said the city needs to focus on significantly raising the wage base for jobs to compare with those in other states.
Ballard faces re-election this fall and will square off against either Melina Kennedy, a former deputy mayor under Bart Peterson, or former City-County Councilman Ron Gibson.
Sandy Gordner, who runs her own corporate-gift business out of her Meridian Kessler home, said she thinks Ballard has been fiscally prudent, and that has positively affected the local business climate.
“I think that’s pretty critical to the strength of the city,” said Gordner, 64, who attended the speech with her husband, Fritz, 70. “It’s what we have to do with our own budgets.”
In addition to jobs, Ballard said his priority is to rebuild neighborhoods by addressing issues such as crumbling sidewalks and streets and abandoned homes with about $450 million from the pending sale of the city’s water and sewer utilities to Citizens Energy Group.
He said that’s a key step to advance Indianapolis’ profile after hosting the 2012 Super Bowl.
“The Super Bowl is not the culmination of our growth, but the evidence of it,” Ballard said. “The next leg of our growth also requires us to attract and keep people in our city.”