With almost a month left before the city's primary election, Mayor Jim Suttle wants to tie his first term in office to Omaha's strong economy.
Unemployment is low, the mayor said Thursday during his annual State of the City address. Omaha weathered an economic recession better than any other major metro area in the country, he said.
Suttle made a point of reaching out to the business community, underscoring the growing role of economic development during this year's election.
While Suttle credited the contribution of businesses to Omaha's economic health, he also said his administration had placed business development and job creation among its top priorities in 2012.
“I know it's not exciting, but keeping our city financially stable continues to pave the way for local businesses,” Suttle said, “those businesses who are regaining confidence in this marketplace and its workforce.”
Suttle's challengers see things differently.
“Omaha has been moving forward in spite of Jim Suttle's best efforts to stand in the way,” Dan Welch, a mayoral candidate and former City Council member, said in a statement.
“This mayor has raised taxes, increased fees, and created a bottleneck for job creation at the City Planning Department. Just imagine the progress Omaha could be making with a mayor who understood and promoted economic development.”
Dave Nabity, a businessman and mayoral candidate, said Suttle's time in office has come with some high-profile failures for business development.
He pointed to the 2011 closing of ALL(n)1 Security Services — an Atlanta-based security company that had been touted as having major potential for job creation in north Omaha — and Omaha Steel Castings' decision to move to Wahoo, Neb.
Other businesses, Nabity said, are frustrated with how long it takes for their projects to get city approval.
During his term, Suttle has sometimes struggled to connect himself with the city's economic success.
In 2009, Suttle ran — and won — on a job creation platform.
In a World-Herald Poll released late last year, 82 percent of voters said things were going well or OK in Omaha. But Suttle held a job approval rating of only 42 percent.
He said Thursday that the city saw “the fruits of our labor” last year with an increase in business development and jobs.
The mayor spoke from the same room at the University of Nebraska Medical Center where he signed a controversial tobacco tax into law last October. Those tax proceeds will help fund a UNMC cancer research center that Suttle said would draw international attention and potentially thousands of jobs.
He repeated policy proposals to earmark money in next year's budget for job training and to enhance the city's tax-increment financing program. He applauded Omaha's young professionals, touted city programs for small and emerging businesses and plugged efforts to bring the building permit process online.
For north Omaha, which has high poverty and unemployment rates, Suttle pointed to a planned Walmart store and Airlite Plastics' plans to expand in the airport industrial park. He urged the City Council to support a proposed industrial park near 16th and Locust Streets, as the city prepares to acquire it.
Even Suttle's comments about crime prevention were partly filtered through an economic lens. Employment, he said, is a key step to reducing crime.
“Job creation must continue to be a top priority in our city,” Suttle said. “And although we are seeing progress, we cannot ease up on jobs as long as there are areas of our city with 20 and 30 percent unemployment.”
The mayor said he wanted to reverse “short-sighted decision-making, which will produce short-term political benefits but prevent city government from providing quality service to its residents.”
“Our success in city government has to come from long-term financial planning, looking at economic development and transportation needs that extend beyond the mayor's term in office,” Suttle said.
World-Herald staff writer Erin Golden contributed to this report.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1068, email@example.com, twitter.com/PerezJr
Mayoral candidates weigh in on city government role
The World-Herald asked the mayoral candidates: What is city government's role in creating jobs and boosting the local economy? Here are the responses:
We must develop a career academy partnership between the public schools and Metro Community College. The mayor must play a major role in developing educational opportunities for our youth who are not on a traditional college path. As mayor, I will build collaborative solutions to bridge the Peter Kiewit Institute and other educational institutions to new entrepreneurial companies such as those emerging at the Mastercraft building north of downtown. The mayor must play a major role in seeking out and recruiting businesses willing to support job training and a career academy for our youth. To recruit 21st century businesses, we must be a diverse and culturally integrated community. The mayor must promote these values. Finally, because of my experience as a founding member of the MECA board, I believe that private/public partnerships can transform our city.
I'm a small-business man; I know what it takes to start businesses and create jobs because I have been successful at doing so. Government should be a partner with the business community to assist, but not get in the way of, entrepreneurs who are willing to invest in new projects that create new jobs. Right now, the City Planning Department is an obstacle to growth and impedes the process by overregulation and unnecessary mandates. I will change that and make it easier to start new businesses and expand existing businesses.
Government does not create jobs; businesses create jobs. Over the past 3 1/2 years, Omaha has missed many opportunities to bring, or keep, good quality jobs in the city. Many businesses have given up efforts to locate here, and several have moved from our city. We cannot accept a city government that won't listen to the concerns of business people. I believe the role of city government is to put in place the good, pro-business policies that make it easier for a business to expand or locate in Omaha, and this is what I will do as mayor.
Mayor Jim Suttle
First, we must be a strong partner in the local economy, by having city financials in order and by delivering city services efficiently. My administration works closely with business and labor leaders to promote economic development and recruit new and better jobs to Omaha. About 40 percent of investment leads come through the Mayor's Office, and we work with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. Last year alone, Omaha created nearly 12,000 new jobs, and the Brookings Institution ranks Omaha as the number one metro in the country for weathering the national recession. Our unemployment rate is half the national average, and is lower than any of America's top 50 cities. I will continue to target job creation for parts of our city with higher unemployment, including south and north Omaha. Now that the economy is improving, we are positioned for even greater growth and success.
City government and the mayor can help create an attractive environment for entrepreneurs and businesses — bringing new, good-paying jobs to Omaha. The mayor must not only be committed to economic growth, he must maintain relationships with existing employers. We must put an end to the political divisiveness that has characterized Omaha in recent years. As mayor, I'll work closely with the business community, including the Chamber of Commerce, as well as entrepreneurs all across the city, such as those at the Mastercraft building in NoDo. We can spur economic growth by working together to improve our economy and the lives of Omahans.