Rybak addresses unemployment rates

In his annual State of the City address, Mayor R.T. Rybak said creating jobs is his main priority.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak delivers his annual State of the City speech at Capella University on Wednesday.

Aleutian Calabay

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak delivers his annual State of the City speech at Capella University on Wednesday.

by James Nord

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak recalled walking in south Minneapolis after a tornado ripped through a neighborhood last summer. In his annual State of the City address Wednesday, Rybak said he and the city are working to pick up the pieces after an âÄúeconomic tornadoâÄù has ravaged the cityâÄôs economy. Although things may never fully recover, Rybak said creating jobs is his main priority. This theme mirrored RybakâÄôs previous three addresses, which focused on employment above all else. âÄúNo one can wave a magic wand and suddenly make jobs appear,âÄù he said. Unemployment rates in the city have decreased from 8.4 percent in July 2009 to their current 6.8 percent, but other indicators of economic health are not as strong. Retail vacancy is at 10.5 percent, up from around 6 percent at the end of 2007, and the price of a home in Minneapolis has decreased by about 12 percent since mid-2008. Despite these ominous numbers, Rybak praised the city and its policies for responsiveness in dealing with the many difficulties they face, which could include a $29 million cut in aid from Gov. Tim Pawlenty. âÄúWe have to recognize that we probably are looking at some additional budget cuts,âÄù Ward 3 Councilwoman Diane Hofestede said. âÄúWe need to think about how can we do business in a different way and work with our partners in order to do that.âÄù Rybak said a supplementary city budget would be provided by mid-April. Rybak lauded state and national initiatives for providing necessary funding to finance city projects and stressed the necessity for these partnerships in the future. He emphasized the need for continued funding in the future. RybakâÄôs own policies call for adding âÄúhard-to-employâÄù and dislocated workers to the workforce, and he said Minneapolis has made significant progress in creating jobs for these groups. âÄúWorker by worker, step by step, we are helping people find jobs,âÄù he said. In addition to aiding individual workers, city programs are helping small business owners with low-interest loans. About $6 million has been given out since 2007. Reform in Minneapolis Regulatory Services also streamlined the process to receive licenses from the city. RybakâÄôs priorities also include funding green jobs, and he started initiatives with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and other groups in 2007 to increase the number in the region. Rybak also addressed crime rates in Minneapolis, which decreased significantly from 2006 to 2009. He said âÄútwo very difficultâÄù months this year have reminded the city of what works to stop crime, and previously shelved initiatives have been restarted to buck the trend. Additionally, new programs have been implemented to help combat violence, and Rybak said a partnership with the University of Minnesota is underway. Minneapolis police Sgt. Jesse Garcia said that although homicides, a significant problem, are up, violent crime and property crime as a whole have decreased in the city, continuing the three-year trend. In terms of transit, Rybak detailed the significant infrastructure projects in progress, such as light-rail lines. He praised the opening of the Northstar Commuter Rail Line and spoke about the cityâÄôs plans to add streetcars as part of its transit system. âÄúAbout the time I was born, they were taking out the streetcar tracks,âÄù Rybak said in a previous interview. âÄúIâÄôm intent, before I retire, to lay them right back down again.âÄù The cityâÄôs bike share program, which will place 1,000 bikes throughout the city, is set to premier in coming months, and Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon said it will have a significant presence around the University. A crowd of about 120 attended the event at Capella University, which received a nod in RybakâÄôs speech for championing the principles of âÄúlifelong learning.âÄù Rybak closed the address the way he opened it, reiterating that although the future is uncertain, jobs are his primary priority. He appeared confident. âÄúThis is a city that lays out plans, sticks to them and gets things done,âÄù Rybak said after the speech.