Voter's Guide: Mayoral candidates' plans for jobs, population growth

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October 16, 2013
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

The leading candidates for mayor have varied platforms when it comes to policies for encouraging job growth in Minneapolis and ideas for increasing the population. As one would expect, all agree that these should be top priorities for the next mayor. Here are highlights of their thoughts on the two topics. Responses have been edited for length.

How would you work to create jobs in the city? 

Former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew, who is now president of GreenMark, a small environmental marketing firm, said he would draw on his skills as a collaborator to create a thriving environment for both businesses and workers.  

“As the only candidate with major support from both the business community and the building trades unions, I will collaborate with our regional partners such as Greater MSP, the Minneapolis Area Chamber of Commerce, and Meet Minneapolis, to brand and promote the region and showcase our city and its assets,” Andrew said.

Second, he would work with school leaders to improve the city’s schools, provide better pathways to college and connect people to job readiness programs to tackle the city’s employment gap between white people and people of color.  

Third, he would invest in transit, bike routes, green infrastructure and affordable housing, among other things, which will “become long-term job engines for the city.”

Fourth, as mayor he’d advocate for small businesses. 

“I will change the way city regulators work with businesses to stop telling them why they can’t do things, and start asking them ‘How can we help?’” he said. 

Former City Council President Jackie Cherryhomes said she would take three steps to spur job growth as mayor. 

She would encourage the creation of new economic opportunities on the periphery of downtown. “The proposed Ryan/Wells Fargo project on the east side of downtown underscores the urgency to have a real plan,” she said. 

Cherryhomes would also hire someone whose sole purpose is to coordinate job creation across all areas of government.

She would also provide more incentives and support for small businesses. 

“Small businesses create the bulk of jobs in our city,” she said. “We need to support them with streamlined support including a simpler permitting process as well as technical and financial support.”

Planning Commissioner Dan Cohen is a proponent of a new downtown casino as a job creator. 

“These would not just be construction jobs, they would be year-round jobs, not seasonal jobs, as would come from sports stadium jobs, which are tied to sports schedules which are not year-round,” he said. “And the casino would also generate jobs related to the casino. Casino customers aren’t going to sleep on the floor. There will be hotels, restaurants and retail shops.”

Cohen said taxpayers are already in the gambling business. 

“The Vikings stadium bill calls for $350 million of the stadium to be financed by pull tab gambling, a total failure. At least casino gambling provides the player with better odds,” Cohen said. “And let the tourists do the gambling. Right now, there are buses running in downtown Minneapolis taking them out to Scott County to gamble at Mystic Lake. These are jobs and revenues lost to Minneapolis.”   

Park Board Commissioner Bob Fine said he wants to make the city friendlier to entrepreneurs to start small businesses. 

“I will specifically focus my attention on high unemployment areas, like the North side, by encouraging business to develop in these neighborhoods, creating better local jobs and preserving vibrant communities,” he said. “It is essential to offer jobs for people in the communities in which they live so as to cut down on transportation costs for workers and encourage overall investment and economic vitality in these communities. The more times a dollar circulates in a community, the healthier the community; providing opportunities for people to live and work in their communities will produce this effect.”

Fine would also encourage businesses to work with nonprofit job training organizations, such as STEP-UP, to increase opportunities for youth. 

City Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) said she would continue to invest in the “common good” as she has done with Mayor R.T. Rybak and colleagues on the City Council.

“Investment in the common good means transit, partnerships in education, small business support, providing basic services like public safety, and our livability. We must also make sure that our city has a highly educated and highly trained workforce,” she said. “That means using every effective tool to prepare every child for future success and improve our schools. Additionally, we must continue to train and place hard-to-employ and displaced workers in the fastest-growing sectors of our economy.”

She would work to eliminate the city’s racial disparities in employment and would advocate for small businesses. 

“There is substantial evidence that investments in small business have and will account for significant job growth. It’s also a great way to support immigrant entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color,” she said.

Hodges would also focus on work with the city’s regional partners to position the entire metro area as a great place to do business.

City Council Member Don Samuels (Ward 5) said he would promote job growth by making the city’s permitting process less cumbersome and would be “relentless” in recruiting business to Minneapolis. “As a former Fortune 500 Senior Executive, I know that at the end of the day, it’s about the business and opportunity climate,” he said.  

If elected he would launch a program, Project Green Light, which would be a “permitting express lane for proven businesses and developers in the city.” 

Once a business has been added to the Project Green Light list, they will only need to submit one permit application for each subsequent project, he said. 

Second, he’d create a City of Lakes Investment Fund (CLIF) that will use targeted grants and loans to recruit small and medium sized business to the city. The businesses would be required to sign agreements to meet specific criteria for job creation targets. 

Business executive Stephanie Woodruff would focus on nurturing the city’s “underdeveloped assets” — especially the riverfront. 

“There’s an enormous opportunity to partner with the private sector to encourage a sustainable jobs park, in order to provide living wage careers on the North Side,” she said. “We must target this area, in order to disrupt the cycle of poverty and in order to address the achievement gap. These efforts are part of the larger sustainable development theme of building compact, interconnected neighborhoods. We cannot look at these issues in a vacuum.  Our greatest challenges equal our greatest opportunities!”  

Wind power attorney Cam Winton said the region’s low unemployment rate masks the fact that some neighborhoods in the city have 20 percent unemployment. 

He would rely on his experience of building a wind-turbine maintenance company of 120 employees with co-workers if elected.

“I’ll draw on my business-building background to streamline the process for job-creators to start new businesses and expand existing ones within Minneapolis,” he said. “Currently, people who want to start a brick-and-mortar business in the city have to wait in line at a building downtown to obtain permission slips from the city. That approach is out of date and repels job-creators. I’ll put those functions online and over the phone.” 

He would also reduce the number of required licenses from about 160 to a dozen or so he views as essential. 

“By stripping away red tape we can enable sustainable job growth to bubble up in our neighborhoods, rather than trying to buy it with hand-outs to out-of-state millionaires and with well-intentioned but ill-advised projects such as the streetcar line,” he said.  

How would you work to increase the city’s population? 

Andrew has a goal of growing the population by 100,000 by 2030. He called it an “ambitious but achievable goal.” 

As mayor he’d advocate for denser development along transit corridors and housing designed for young creative professionals, families and seniors. 

“All have seemingly different needs, but really they want the same things — all of which are priorities for my administration: amenities (green space, parks, retail, entertainment); mobility and access to transit; safe neighborhoods; and, for families, good schools,” he said. 

Cherryhomes said she would focus on public safety and keeping property taxes low to encourage more people to live in the city. 

“I have experience, both as a citizen and as an elected leader, in keeping our neighborhoods safe. This is ‘job 1’ for the mayor. I have strong partnerships with the public, parochial, private and charter schools in our community,” she said. “As a lifelong resident of this city, I have always been a tireless promoter of Minneapolis. As mayor, I will work with neighborhoods, non-profits and the business community to grow our economy, build our tax base and promote Minneapolis.”

Cohen said the city needs to make sure it’s being flexible to adopt to the housing needs of the market. 

“Today, 40 percent of our population is single person households,” he noted, adding both men and women have a “greater desire for personal freedom in their lives.”

He said members of the Planning Commission believe the market should drive zoning changes. Recently, the commission adopted zoning regulations that allow for smaller units. 

Demand remains high for new rental units. “Last year we approved over 4,000 new units, and we still have only about a 2 percent vacancy rate,” he said.

Fine said he would work to make the city a more attractive place to live and do business if elected. 

“If we want to get people to move here, we must increase the number and quality of jobs so that people see Minneapolis as a perfect place to move and pursue their professional careers,” he said. “Improving and increasing housing opportunities also is key to making Minneapolis an attractive place to live. I will work hard to reduce property taxes by 5 percent in 2015.”

He would also work to promote the city’s world-class park systems, arts offerings and reach out to immigrant communities.

“I will work closely with specific populations to increase opportunities. For example, I will work with the Somali community to help realize a community center and offer more programs for youth,” he said. “To make sure people can live in safe and attractive communities, I will work to provide more affordable options for seniors, low-income individuals and families and renters.”

Hodges noted that Minneapolis had a population of more than 500,000 six decades ago. 

“We know that there is plenty of room for a population of that size without altering the character of our single-family neighborhoods,” she said. 

To grow the city’s population Hodges advocates for many things: excellent city services, a comprehensive transit system, solid public safety, housing density along transit corridors, quality schools, a safe downtown with 24-hour amenities and an emphasis on North Minneapolis that would position the area as the “most affordable, desirable neighborhood in the metro area,” she said. 

Samuels said investments in transit are key to growing the city’s population.

If elected he would invest in streetcars for the Nicollet-Central and Washington-West Broadway corridors and connect them to light-rail lanes. He would also advocate for a streetcar line on the Midtown Greenway.

He would also promote dense housing in parts of the city where it makes sense and would make downtown more friendly for families and seniors. 

“This means we need to develop a high quality downtown school for families to send their children, investments in reducing crime downtown with my ‘6 Families Initiative,’ and further developing the Downtown East, which is now possible because of the Ryan Project investment that I voted for,” he said. 

Woodruff said as mayor she would work with other city leaders to ensure smart choices are made about where growth occurs. 

“Increasing efficiency and encouraging more use of the existing built-up areas, with a focus on compact interconnected neighborhoods, major transit stations and corridors, and preservation of public green space are a few key principles to smart, sustainable population growth,” she said. “Concentrating new development in these areas also provides a focus for transit and infrastructure investments to support future growth.”

To increase the population, Winton said he’d “fix the things that keep people away in the first place or cause them to leave.” 

He’d advocate for “common-sense education reform” and would seek mayoral appointments to the School Board.

Winton would also work to streamline the back offices of the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County to save taxpayers money. 

He would also have high expectations for service delivery and use real-time data to analyze the effectiveness of street plowing and paving, among other things. 

Winton would also push to simplify the development review process to encourage more housing development at all price points. 

“For residential work I’ll replace pre-work permit-pulling with random post-work inspections, thereby ensuring building code compliance but eliminating a massive source of frustration about living in the city,” he said.

As for transit, he’ll champion improvements of a system made up of light rail, enhanced bus service, bike transit and pedestrian facilities.