Mayor Chris Beutler said today there has never been a better time to "live, work, raise a family and have fun" in the Capital City. And he said creating a culture of innovation will help Lincoln improve the quality of life for all residents of the community. The Mayor's comments were part of his State of the City Address delivered this morning at a breakfast event organized by Leadership Lincoln.
"City Hall must not only keep pace with the innovation occurring in the private sector, we have to adopt a cultural mindset that encourages innovation within our organization," Beutler said. "We must continue to look for opportunities to partner and promote the next big idea. Otherwise government becomes an obstacle to progress rather than an ally of progress."
Mayor Beutler said creating an innovation culture revolves around several concepts:
The Mayor said areas where innovative thinking has been or will be necessary include the project at the Veterans Hospital site to better serve veterans and the rapidly-growing aging population; the future of the main downtown library; stable funding for the Community Learning Centers; and creative solutions to deal with the Emerald Ash Borer.
Mayor Beutler also said embracing diversity is essential for moving the City forward. "An innovation culture promotes unity, because success is dependent on how well we work together and use our collective talent to build a better society," he said. "In this environment, we can't afford to leave behind people of any religion, race, ethnic background or sexual orientation because we depend on their unique contributions to the greater good."
The breakfast also included the presentation of the Leadership Lincoln Distinguished Service Award to Bennie Shobe, Jr. He currently serves on the boards of several local organizations, teaches at UNL and is a Program Analyst for the State of Nebraska. Leadership Lincoln Executive Director Mick Hale also spoke on the State of Leadership Lincoln. The organization currently has about 130 people in its four programs - the Executive Series, the Fellows Program, Youth Leadership Lincoln and the Academy for Local Leadership (Project ALL).
Congratulations, you are the recipients of the first Tweet ever authored by a Mayor of Lincoln, Nebraska. I doubt that it will be regarded as a seminal moment in humankind's technological advance. And in the interest of full transparency, it might also very well be the last Tweet from this Mayor. But the effort does bring up the larger point which I would like to focus on today.
Our world is changing rapidly. And it is changing in ways unimaginable even a few years ago. We know it, even if we don't consciously acknowledge it. Every time we text, check out the latest Tweet or order a pizza on-line, we validate the notion that the processes by which we interact in almost every sphere of our lives has been, and is being, forever altered.
Even the pace of change has changed. Compare the slow thousand year processes of evolutionary change, or the century long change of the industrial revolution, to the short period of time it took in the internet era to get to a single fiber strand, in a nanosecond, transmitting the entirety of human history. Our success as a society in this new and fast paced environment depends on our ability to create, react and adapt quickly.
Yesterday's accomplishments mean less in a world where technology becomes outdated almost as soon as it is adopted. Relentless innovation is how we retain leadership in a world that offers constant reinvention.
What does that mean for the future of our City?
It means that our success is dependent on creating a culture of innovation. City Hall must not only encourage the innovation occurring in the private sector, we must also adopt a cultural mindset that encourages innovation within our own organization. It is with reference to these important objectives that we evaluate the State of our Great City this year.
Today I am proud to report to you that Lincoln's innovation culture is already vibrant and strong. Together, we are creating a high quality of life and a dynamic economy that is creating jobs. As will be discussed, that culture is even saving lives. The fact is, there has never been a better time to live, work, raise a family and have fun in our City. Substantially improving that quality of life for ALL who live here is the goal that an innovation culture will help us reach.
Creating an innovation culture involves these concepts among others:
First, we have to promote risk taking and experimentation with new ideas. Second, we must invest in people who think clearly about big ideas and empower them to act. Third, we have to creatively use technology within the private sector to improve services. Finally, we have to invest in and improve the public infrastructure that supports innovation.
Successful companies support risk takers and experimentation. Facebook's CEO, Mark Zuckerburg said, "In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks." His belief drives the innovation that has made Facebook a giant in both American business and culture.
It is important to foster a risk-taking culture at the City government level. It was a City employee, the late Virendra Singh, who suggested one of the most important innovations in Lincoln's recent history. When the downtown's streets were re-surfaced a few years back, the City put in underground fiber conduit at the same time, not fully certain how the experiment would turn out.
Fast forward to today and Lincoln's 350 miles of conduit, known as the Lincoln Technology Improvement System, has dramatically altered broadband service in Lincoln. A new broadband provider is using that conduit to bring one gigabit internet speed to homes and businesses across the City. Other broadband providers are working to increase their internet speeds, creating the competition that lowers prices and expands access for all residents. As the Lincoln Journal Star editorial board said, "Virendra Singh's legacy lives on in the Capital City's 21st century future." And thank you David Young in our Public Works Department for so dramatically building onto Virendra's initiative.
The private sector and the University of Nebraska have enshrined risk taking as part of their institutions. UNL's Innovation Campus, for example, is an incubator for young entrepreneurs to develop exciting new businesses. They in turn join a thriving start-up community centered in the West Haymarket, where they receive mentoring and world class support from Nebraska Global, Hudl, Nelnet, Speedway, Penlink, and other firms dedicated to building Lincoln's innovation culture.
City Hall must continue to embrace the risk-taking entrepreneurs in the private sector who are building our economy. We must continue to look for opportunities to partner and promote the next big idea. Otherwise, government becomes an obstacle to progress, rather than an ally of progress.
Our Administration took a risk when we utilized new laws passed by the Legislature designed to help cities innovatively finance economic expansion. Now Scheels is building an innovative $80 million expanded regional store at South Pointe— a project that will boost our economy and prevent local dollars from leaving the City for sporting goods stores in Omaha and Kansas City.
The message that Lincoln sends to risk takers matters. When we embolden ingenuity and original thinking, we invite success. How else can you explain the development of the Pinnacle Bank Arena and the West Haymarket? The proponents of a new arena came to City Hall and said they wanted to build a new arena in a floodplain with miles of railroad tracks and serious environmental issues. It would have been really easy to politely show these folks the exit door.
But rather than sending them away, we came together as a community and supported what many regarded as a crazy, improbable dream. What we didn't do was let our skepticism derail the entrepreneurial spirit that has given us one of the nation's premiere entertainment venues and helped create unprecedented economic growth.
I am proud to report to you today that the Pinnacle Bank Arena will finish the 2015-16 budget year in the black, another notable achievement for the project. I want to recognize City Councilman Carl Eskridge and University of Nebraska Regent Tim Clare. The three of us serve as the Board for West Haymarket JPA that oversees the project area. Tim and Carl deserve a lot of credit for the area's success.
We should encourage the kind of experimentation within city government that creates better ways of doing business. Businesses with innovative cultures encourage their workforces to experiment. In fact, Google allows their employees to devote one day a week to experiment with ways to improve the company. It creates an organizational mindset to always be searching for the next innovation that will improve lives.
In our Public Works & Utilities Department, former Marine Corps Major Ty Barger had an idea to improve brine with beet juice additive to make our streets safer and easier to navigate during snow storms. Public Works staff spent long hours experimenting with different ideas until they found the right formula. Academic studies confirm that this new approach is far superior at keeping roads safe and snow free during our tough winters. Experimentation with new ideas can clearly result in changes that make life a little better.
The way we managed parking had not changed in this City for decades prior to our Administration. Then Urban Development experimented with bold changes—moving downtown parking enforcement to the private sector and encouraging garage parking with our first hour free program. And now you can use a debit card or a smart phone app to pay for your parking. Altogether smarter ways to do business. Thank you Wayne Mixdorf for your exciting approaches.
These are just a few of the many examples of how risk taking and experimentation at City Hall create better results for residents.
Innovation does not happen by itself. It occurs because individual people think big and are empowered to make it happen. I believe investing in people is perhaps the most critical component of creating a culture of innovation. We depend on City staff and community members to help us discover the big ideas that make our City stronger. When we take the next step and give these talented people the authority to take action on these big ideas, we move the community forward.
Our recent choice to invest more resources in Star Tran is an excellent example. It was the people who ride Star Tran like Richard Schmeling of Citizens for Better Transit who emphasized to us that we needed a cross town route as well as later and more frequent service. Bus patrons knew that these changes were necessary for Star Tran to successfully provide access to employment, education, and health care. Star Tran's Manager Mike Davis led the study that gave us a complex roadmap to a better bus service which was dependent upon higher technologies. Council members Jane Raybould and Cyndi Lamm were strong advocates for expansion.
Our Health Department is quietly one of the most effective public health services in the nation. It is a hotbed of big ideas responding to the changing health needs of the community. When data showed that left-over medication contributed to increases in drug overdoses, the Health Department's Willa DiConstanzo and staff didn't wait for the federal government to recognize the crisis. They acted, bringing together 44 Lincoln pharmacies and other partners to start the NebraskaMEDS project, a prescription medication take back program. Over 12,000 pounds of unused medications have been eliminated from Lincoln and Lancaster County homes over four years. Because staff was empowered to act, recent data shows that Lincoln is not seeing the rise of opioid deaths that other communities face.
Empowering people to find solutions is helping maintain Lincoln's highly coveted triple A bond rating, an critical indicator of our successful financial management. Cities across the nation struggle with employee pension funding. After the stock market crash in 2008, Lincoln's Police Fire Pension developed a serious funding shortfall. Councilman Trent Fellers had the idea for a citizens' review committee and acted. The committee, led by local businessman Richard Evnen, made recommendations that have already greatly improved the pension fund's fiscal health. Councilman Jon Camp's long time advocacy for responsibly funding the pension helped us move the committee's recommendations through the City Council. These changes were critical to ensuring Lincoln's outstanding credit rating into the future.
An innovation culture creatively uses technology to open up vast new opportunities to improve the community . . . and even save lives.
Lincoln's public safety services are leaders in creatively using technology.
The Lincoln Police Department has long been a cutting edge national leader in using data to better geographically focus law enforcement resources. Today, creative technology solutions in other areas of public safety are proving effective in protecting Lincoln families.
For example, Lincoln's enthusiastic adoption of an ingenious smart phone app helps protect people facing cardiac arrest. The Pulse Point app sends an alert when someone at a particular location needs CPR, allowing those nearby, who know CPR, to quickly respond.
LFR's investment in new CPR technology is improving the delivery of life-saving medical techniques. When coupled with emergency dispatch changes that have improved overall emergency response times by 25 seconds, a patient's odds of surviving a cardiac arrest have improved dramatically. I want to recognize Lincoln Fire and Rescue's talented medical director Dr. Jason Krueger for his work in this area.
Innovative use of technology is one of the reasons that Lincoln enjoys a cardiac survival rate that is the best in the nation, almost fifty percent higher than the national average.
Council members Leirion Gaylor Baird and Trent Fellers have brought us another example of creatively using technology to Lincoln. The open data resolution will improve the lives of residents and create economic growth in the process. By making much more City data easily accessible, creative new products like smart phone apps can be developed. Open data also helps improve government transparency and efficiency.
The City's Action Center phone app already allows residents to snap a picture of a pothole or a bad sidewalk. The City's GPS technology allows us to pinpoint the location without the user filling out on-line forms. This is the kind of innovation that speeds response, helping keep neighborhoods strong and vibrant.
Embracing new technology is giving city crews the physical tools to fill potholes faster and more effectively. Specialized pothole filling trucks allow one employee to do the work of three, giving citizens a higher level of service without adding more staff.
While an innovation culture invites new ideas and new way of doing business, old fashioned municipal fundamentals like building roads and other infrastructure are still essential.
It is part of the reason why my Administration has increased street spending by 58% since 2010. That has allowed us to improve 72 miles of arterials and 487 blocks of residential streets over that time. A record amount of spending on streets is part of the 2016-18 budget and the long awaited South Beltway is now funded in our six year roads plan.
In one really important way, old fashioned street construction is being further enhanced by the innovation culture. The Greenlight Lincoln program uses new embedded fiber and sensors, new software, and better stop light replacements to increase road capacity, moving traffic more quickly and safely. This next generation infrastructure allows us to manage traffic in real time and better coordinate and improve traffic signal timing. Citizens will save time on most all trips.
In the last year, Lincoln citizens voted to improve the community's public safety infrastructure by increasing the City sales tax by a quarter cent. The funding will innovate by replacing completely our aging emergency radio system and improve response times by creatively realigning and adding new fire and police stations. We also worked with the City Council and in particular, Councilman Roy Christensen, to add four new police officers. And we added a seventh ambulance to improve our medical emergency service response times.
When we invest in our community's physical infrastructure, we create opportunities for the economic growth that fuels an innovation culture.
Innovation concepts recognize the changes in society and provide new ways of dealing with those changes. At the Veterans Hospital property on 70th street, a private-public partnership could lead to a nearly 100 million dollar investment in a seniors village. This forward thinking proposal includes new housing options, retail, and a new Aging Partners facility all focused to better serve in one location the needs of our community's veterans and senior citizens.
Our public libraries have long been a hub of innovation. Now, we need to employ some creative thinking as we consider the future of Bennett Martin. In an age of innovation, libraries are more than just holding facilities for books and periodicals. They can be centers for community knowledge and technology, where people access information in a wide variety of mediums and formats. They can be collaborative spaces for people solving problems in academia, business, or neighborhoods. And they have the potential for tremendous economic impact when partnered with private sector development. Creative innovation is needed here right now.
We anticipate that a viable plan will emerge from the many conversations currently underway. Once a plan is established, residents will be able to voice their preference with regard to a downtown library through a bond election that will likely be on the ballot in the next couple of years.
Our Community Learning Centers are changing lives every day. They are new unique partnerships between the City, the Lincoln Public Schools and community non-profits led by Barb Bartle and the Lincoln Community Foundation. Kids benefit from expanded after hours learning opportunities and neighborhood development that improves the places they call home. Stable and consistent funding must be found to ensure continued success. This idea for getting more use out of school facilities though a city school nonprofit partnership could be the next great innovative use of facilities in Lincoln.
Virtually all of Lincoln's 14,000 public ash trees will be wiped out in the next few years by the Emerald Ash Borer. $29 million is the initial estimate on the cost to remove and replace these trees. While we have set aside a million dollars per year to begin addressing EAB, we must continue to monitor what is happening in other communities. We must continue to seek out new ideas that solve these challenges more effectively and for less cost. I am hopeful that a partnership to be formed with the private and non-profit sectors will help stimulate new solutions.
In your programs today, you'll see an example of what can happen when we create a culture of innovation -- a week-long series of events dubbed LNK DNA. The creative young professionals in our community realized that some great events were all happening the first week of October. They began to organize, rebrand and build on their ideas.
That synergy created a new City celebration of start-ups, entrepreneurship, music, visual arts and fitness. Their vision is to grow LNK DNA into Lincoln's version of South by Southwest, a festival that helped put Austin, Texas on the map. They are dreaming big, working hard and having fun in the City they love.
Significant Innovation is no longer a once every several years event. Innovation is a constant for those businesses and communities that hope to thrive. An innovation culture moves cities forward. It creates the vibrancy that keeps our University graduates at home. It attracts entrepreneurs who seek networks of other innovators who drive their business models. An innovation culture instills the confidence that we can, together, meet and overcome the challenges to our high quality of life.
An innovation culture promotes unity because success is dependent upon how well we work together and use our collective talent to build a better society. In this environment, we can't afford to leave people of any religion, race, ethnic background or sexual orientation behind because we depend on their unique contributions to the greater good. We should embrace diversity because it is fair, because innovation is dependent on a variety of perspectives and because when we marginalize groups we lose the important marginal advantage of delaying fully 100% of our workforce.
We have long known that solid street, water, and wastewater infrastructures contribute to our community's prosperity. As Lincoln faces the challenges that lie ahead, we need to embrace the innovation culture more broadly both to enhance current infrastructures and to add new infrastructures. All the power of new knowledge must be brought to bare. It's as simple as that.
I've been discussing the need for local government to be innovative in how it responds to change and delivers needed services. It is equally important to acknowledge the good work of local residents that quietly do this on a daily basis. Accordingly, I am happy to announce the first annual Luminary Award. Please join me on Winter Solstice, December 21, 2016, to honor the recipient, who has displayed consistent and intentional actions that demonstrate Lincoln's values and has gone above and beyond in making an impact on Lincoln and its citizens. Nominations will be accepted on Leadership Lincoln's website until the end of October.
I want thank to Leadership Lincoln and in particular Mick Hale for putting together this State of the City event. And I grateful to all of you for everything you do every day to make Lincoln the best city in the nation. I am humbled to be your Mayor and look forward to what we will achieve together in the coming year.