Huntersville Board Members and Huntersville Citizens:
I had the honor of attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors in D.C. just over a week ago. Many of our neighboring municipalities attended as well, including Charlotte, Mooresville and Waxhaw. There were mayors from all over the country, representing communities of all sizes. A variety of information and discussion sessions were held that proved to be incredible learning experiences.
Here are some of the highlights of my trip:
Thursday, working with Huntersville’s lobbyist George Harris, I made two trips to the Judiciary Square to speak with our North Carolina delegation. With George Harris’s valuable experience and input, we first visited Rep. Watt’s office, followed by newly-elected Rep. Pittenger’s office, then Senators Hagan and Burr. The highlights of our conversations were the current review of the I-77 widening, the current CATS/NCDOT/Norfolk-Southern study on the Red Line (or “O” Line) and how the municipalities have been actively working on a public-private partnership funding model that is currently pausing while the study is being outlined and conducted. I appealed to our delegation to watch the relationship of our railroad entities with the State to help encourage more open relationships with the railroads in discussion growth of infrastructure. And I conveyed to our delegation that our citizens were asking that I take the message of encouragement to work on our behalf in a bipartisan manner. George Harris and I both commented to our delegation that we were very aware that our North Carolina delegation worked well together and we wanted to help in letting our citizens know, so we suggested hosting an information-gathering forum of our representatives on issues such as the internet sales tax, to which the response was positive. We also discussed the potential for Huntersville to host a collaborative of Asian manufacturers for economic development and discussed the positive momentum in Huntersville with regard to new corporate citizens.
It was one of the high points of my day to hear Senator Burr’s transportation director compliment Huntersville on our progressive, out of the box thinking with regard to economic development and funding options. The message was clear: We stand out as role models for foresight.
In the meantime, I was able to get notes on sessions at the Conference on Technology and Innovation (hosted by San Francisco Mayor Lee and MC Hammer). A recurring theme throughout the conference was simple: With increasing technological advances, communities need to make efforts for internet access for poorer populations (for job applications in particular. And, communities should utilize technology for outreach to their citizens — Social media, but also transit updates, community events, bike and car share opportunities and much more, like Yelp and health code information and public health statistics.)*
In the Council on Metro Economics and the New American City, mayors discussed the 2013 job and economic growth projections and learned that 25% of Americans made a weekly trip to Wal-Mart (the need for personal savings in a difficult economy), 10% of Americans will NOT be college-bound and will seek out alternative opportunities to make a living, through internships and apprenticeships. There will be an increasing need for more supervision and regulation over housing lending and more need for funding education.*
Vice President Biden was the guest speaker at the luncheon and spoke about the need to strike a balance between gun control and the Second Amendment. Gun control, in fact, was the unofficial theme of the Conference, as would be expected in D.C. at this time.
I had the opportunity to be interviewed for a video to be shown to Asian manufacturers on Huntersville’s behalf, inviting them to visit (and relocate to) Huntersville.
I participated in a Women Mayors session (way too few of us!) — and that ended my first day.
Friday began with a breakfast honoring the value of the arts in communities, and as mayors of larger cities discussed the value of arts not only for their citizens, but as a boost for education AND economic development, I couldn’t help but think of the progressive thinking of Huntersville’s investment in the ASC’s Cultural Plan and the value we put on our relationships with Discovery Place Kids, Rural Hill, Latta Plantation, Carolina Raptor Center, Hugh Torance House and Store and others.
Senator Dianne Feinstein spoke about gun control to the conference, after which we broke into sessions and I attended the Transportation and Communications session. I had the opportunity to meet Mayor of Atlanta Reed, with whom I’ll be meeting in a smaller venue with Mayor Foxx in February to discuss public-private funding models for transportation. Chairman of the FCC Genachowski spoke to the group about the need to “up” broadband speeds locally and said that cities are now focusing on gigabits and as a result of the foresight, are seeing job numbers go up, and attraction of innovation. The goal of the FCC is to have one city per state with gigabits by 2015 and they have started an online clearinghouse to get ideas on providing broadband opportunities. The FCC will be releasing more spectrum. And the Chairman encouraged mayors to find out more about “Connect to Compete”.*
There was some discussion about the conflict between state free market regulations and the desire of some communities to be innovative on their own.
Transportation Secretary LaHood only had a few moments in the session, but said, in no uncertain terms, that if communities were going to be successful and thrive, they were going to have to make the difficult decisions NOW to be aggressive in building transportation infrastructure. He talked about the recent action by the City of Detroit to establish a Regional Transportation Authority (similar to the Red Line proposal). He also encouraged mayors to look at the TIFIA loan program ($2 Billion loan program) to leverage projects and he repeated that the TIGER 5 funding program was awaiting Congressional approval. I did have the chance to introduce myself to the Secretary and thanked him for his support of transportation options in the Charlotte region.
Our luncheon was sponsored by Weight Watchers and mayors of several cities shared their healthy initiatives — community based solutions.*
Mayor Foxx chaired the Advanced Manufacturing Task Force in the afternoon and we had a vibrant discussion about the changing picture of manufacturing in the United States and how to encourage foreign investments in our regions. Labor Secretary Solis shared information on trends toward new jobs and outreach for apprenticeships and education for the new industries. There was some discussion of the innovative “3D printing” and the Administration’s continued research in the future of other advances. This conversation blended well with Huntersville’s efforts with George Harris to reach the Asian industry leaders and with the following session on International Affairs.
It is essential to note that many communities are now beginning to place an emphasis on recruiting Chinese direct foreign investment. The Obama administration is aware of that as is the N.C. delegation. They are all very aware, too, of the potential for foreign interest in infrastructure investment.
I have come home with a renewed appreciation for all things Huntersville, but also with a commitment to encourage our Board and citizens to aggressively look to the future. I am convinced that we are ahead of the game in many areas — in fact, I was able to share with the Mayor of Dallas-Fort Worth (the 16th largest municipality in the country) that Huntersville’s subdivision zoning ordinance was revamped in 1995 with a strong belief in urban planning techniques and that connectivity, preservation of open space and planned density in transportation corridors are our guiding principles. She will be speaking on her urban planning efforts in Raleigh in February.
Huntersville has often been a contradiction: We have planned for our future very well, but we have also held ourselves back in some areas. We have to make the financial and intellectual investment in our community’s future, if we are to continue to thrive.
*My goals, as a result of my visit to D.C. are simple. I’d like to ask that our Town Board consider the following:
To actively discuss the importance of adding sustainability options to our zoning code, to encourage more energy and land conservation and more opportunities and rewards for innovation.
To review our sidewalk priority procedures and discuss adding criteria that would benefit communities with little access that might be more prone to unhealthier lifestyles.
To research the potential for Town-sponsored Wi-Fi “hot spots” to encourage more internet activity throughout Town and to avail internet to the poorer communities. Learn more about “Connect to Compete”.
Encourage local housing lenders and other financial institutions to provide educational seminars at Town Hall on financing options. Be a conduit for financial education.
To work with our EDC in creating more opportunities for direct outreach to foreign and domestic corporations for relocation.
To encourage the establishment of a social media/public relations position within the Town that would focus on community outreach and notification, and to discuss the possibility of a contractual grant-writing relationship, specifically charged with finding opportunities for Huntersville to apply for grants in areas of outreach, historical preservation, infrastructure enhancements and more.
To support — as a Board — a healthy Huntersville initiative with a community-based effort to educate citizens and change unhealthy trends.
To continue to invite our State and Federal delegations to hold issues forums in Huntersville, in partnership with our surrounding municipalities, on topics like transportation, economic development, communications and health and welfare.
I didn’t attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors in the past because I’ve been reluctant to ask for the funds to attend. In fact, even though the registration was free this year, I made it a point to find a cheaper hotel outside of D.C. (which was a 30 minute drive to the Metro Station, a 30 minute ride on the Metro and a 15 minute walk to the hotel), and I only ate a few meals on my own and drove my own hybrid car to save money. But I have been mistaken. If opportunities come up for the Board members to attend sessions, I will be supportive, simply because we can learn so much to benefit our community from outside our community. We should invest in our elected officials to make sure they are good at what they are charged to do.
I am inspired. Surrounded by mayors of cities much larger than our town, I became very aware of how much progress and foresight we have. I know Huntersville has the foundation, has the desire, has the potential. I was very proud to represent us in D.C.