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Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Mark Stodola: The changing workforce amid COVID-19 and beyond

In this conversation, Mark Stodola, former Mayor of Little Rock and policy leader on the future of work, is joined by Chattanooga, Tennessee Mayor Andy Berke; Huntington, West Virginia Mayor Steve Williams; Columbia, South Carolina Mayor Steve Benjamin; Des Moines, Iowa Mayor Frank Cownie; and Juliet Schor, Economist and Sociology Professor at Boston College. The discussion ranged from whether the gig-economy lived up to the hype, or did it merely exacerbate already existent issues. Also, they discussed what a prepared workforce might look like, and how that might impact entrepreneurship in cities.

Watch: “Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Mark Stodola Part 1: Work from home, the new normal?” | 13:59

Mark Stodola: Welcome to the latest installment of our Kauffman Foundation Mayors Council Virtual Roundtable. My name is Mark Stodola. I had the honor and privilege to serve as mayor of Little Rock, what I like to call the next great American city in the South. Today, our round table topic for discussion is the future of work, growing entrepreneurs and the changing workforce amid COVID-19 and beyond.

It’ll be very likely that many employees won’t be returning to the workplace after the COVID subsides. The pandemic’s economic disruption has been historic, not just in terms of sheer job losses, but also the shifting tides of how and where we work. If you would, please offer a brief snapshot as to how employers in your city and the city itself have responded to what appears to be the new normal. Let me call on Andy Berke to start us off.

Mayor Andy Berke: It’s a pleasure. Thank you, Mayor Stodola, and thanks to Kauffman for hosting this. This is such an important topic right now, and I don’t think that we truly know how all this is going to flesh out. We are seeing a tremendous disruption in our cities. We still have numerous industries that are at home. Our downtown is largely vacant from people who are working home. We have a lot of insurance and financial sector people who are just not back in their offices.

Of course, for us, we’re starting to see, even in the last week or two, the gradual rising once again of our COVID numbers, which is scary for anybody who went through the red zone, the Harvard numbers, like we did during this summer. So, for us, we’ve really seen employers pull back, keeping people at home, but we’re in a situation right now where our restaurants, our small businesses, our retail are all suffering because people are not in the middle of our city, and we’ve got to do something about it.

So, for us, we’ve spent a lot of time working on these issues of small businesses, businesses owned by people of color. We know that they are the ones that are the hardest hit. Many of our larger industries seem to be doing much better. They are experiencing something more like the V-shaped recovery that you hear about. But the people who didn’t have cash on hand, who have liquidity issues, who aren’t able to suffer a five or 10% drop in revenues, they are really suffering right now, and we’ve got to do more to help them.

Mayor Steve Williams: What we’re experiencing is very similar to what is occurring in other cities around the country. Retail and service certainly are really getting smacked. Several years ago, we sought to have a more aggressive effort in working with our businesses, certainly as we’ve learned through the Kauffman Foundation how we could be moving forward with entrepreneurship and such.

The one key is, is that we have a university, a research institution right in our city, Marshall University, and we have been working and partnering with them to make sure that those resources are available for our businesses. But when it came right down to it on the … as a result of COVID-19, we saw that the margins of our businesses were just being squeezed. So many of them just having to close down.

A few years ago, we eliminated our business taxes on manufacturing, just to make us competitive with those areas around the city, where they’d be able to build out in the country somewhere and not have business taxes, except for the state. We eliminated our business taxes and that has helped us stay competitive with manufacturing within the city.

We fortunately found ourselves with some pretty healthy reserves as we were coming into the pandemic, and as a result of that, we decided to eliminate the business taxes on all of our retail businesses beginning on April 1st, from April to June, and then again, June to September. Then this week, our city council will be eliminating the business taxes for another quarter for our retail businesses in the area.

We’ve also eliminated our business taxes on new construction within the community. We want individuals who are looking to move to our area to be able to reduce the cost of construction, of new housing, and rehabbing of housing in the community. What we’ve also done is we have several businesses that have come together and said, let’s market our city and be able to remind folks who have moved away or who are looking towards the South, we’re targeting areas like Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh, and Chicago, and such, individuals who might be looking to go South at the advantages of Huntington. As a result of that, we have a fairly aggressive digital marketing program that we’re utilizing as well.

So we’re looking at trying to reduce the cost of doing business and also highlight what the quality of life difference is for somebody who’s looking to work remotely in our community.

Mark Stodola: Thank you. Mayor Benjamin, how about you and your city?

Mayor Steve Benjamin: Mark, we’re seeing the world change very rapidly, some trends that we were already tracking here in the city, some great research we were part of with Howard University and Harvard University, along with the African American Mayors Association, looking at the future of work and its impact disparately on the two bottom quintiles, on Black and Brown citizens, and we’ve watched all those trends over the last several months accelerate.

Obviously, we have the pandemic, the economic disruption, as well as all the issues around social unrest, this fire, sinkhole and tornado effect, that has really accelerated a number of troubling trends, as we look at the way that advanced machine learning automation and AI has just changed the world in which we live.

It’s interesting, just as some of you may have seen the Bloomberg Billionaires Index report just earlier today, that shows this massive and growing disparity that has only accelerated, economic disparity, over the year. The 50 wealthiest people in the country now control more wealth than the bottom 165 million in this country. So we’ve watched this acceleration where those of us who are able to teleport in from our homes via these different modules, we’ve watched our net worth increase, and there’s so many others who’ve watched the reverse happen.

We’ve also watched, along with our friends in the private sector, a pretty significant increase in productivity. I mean, it’s amazing, this work-life balance of having people. Particularly as we deal with the disruption in education and everything else, we’re finding that people are actually dealing with all the other social issues, but happier, actually, also working from home, being able to take care of their families and the like. It’s a real challenge.

I will say this, that while some of us who … we were positioned well financially, just as Steve was. We finished eight of the last 10 years with a budget surplus. We’ve been good stewards of the public trust. I am curious and somewhat concerned about what this means, this mass migration to urban cores, not just in this country, but all across the world. People coming in droves, a generational shift and a focus on density, creating spaces, the public square, where men, and women, and families convene and converge.

What the pandemic and a focus on decreasing that density, what it will mean for our economies of our cities that define our character. I’ve seen some of the challenges and disparities that exist grow, and we’ve been somewhat creative in meeting them. We just hit the two most challenging census tracks in our city with free wifi to make sure our kids can stay tuned in into school, and the parents could continue to see educational opportunities.

So, I think you’re starting to see this wonderful spur in creativity, and usually when it comes to us, there’s the process of innovation and iteration that we all engage in. But there’s also a whole lot of just idea sharing. I don’t mind going to Steve’s city, or Andy’s, or Frank’s, or Little Rock, and just stealing the very best ideas. That’s what we’re going to continue having to do as we deal with these incredibly shifting sands.

Mark Stodola: Mayor Cownie, are you seeing a lot of people staying at home, or are they getting back to work and going back to their offices? What do you think is going to happen in the future?

Mayor Frank Cownie: That’s a good question, and that’s one that we’re trying to work through. We’ve spent the last 20, 30 years trying to think of the future of our urban area and downtown. We used to have 35-40,000 people working in downtown, which was the major employment area in the state, and now we’ve got over 80,000 working in downtown.

We used to also, we decided that we needed to switch it from just a workplace to a living place, and rethought how you reintroduce residential into the core, and worked with a lot of our developers in how do you do it in and around the downtown businesses with this growing employment base, and went from about 1,500-1,700 people living in downtown to over 17,000 living in downtown now.

But I’m going to tell you, this year has been challenging, as we think about what that looks like moving forward. Our larger employers have shifted to a great deal of a teleworking. We are, as some of you know, I know Steve knows, that we’re the third largest insurance center in the world. A lot of those companies are right in the middle of downtown, and they’re switching to this teleworking, and what does that work look like, not only today. Because I’ve got to tell you, utilizing that model for some of the businesses, it’s working now, they’ve figured out how to make it work, and then the question is, are they going to continue to push that moving forward?

Any rate, we have to look at what we’re going to do long-term in the planning of our downtown core and bring our businesses and our residents together. For example, in 2021, the city will begin our year-long process to develop our new downtown master plan, working with our local chamber of commerce. This process was delayed. We were going to do it this year, but obviously with COVID, we had to reframe an awful lot of our assumptions of what business looks like and what living looks like moving forward. So, we had to remain flexible throughout the pandemic and work really collaboratively with our local chambers of commerce and our regional partners to work on it.

While the pandemic, you know, pushing off a lot of our businesses to that telework, as I said, it’s also temporarily closed a lot of the small businesses. So, it’s a big concern of ours to make sure that our local businesses, and even restaurants and nightclubs, we had an awful lot of downtown night entertainment spots that make Des Moines what it is and can make it through this pandemic.

So, the city, as a for instance, we were also in pretty good financial shape as well, but when we got a little CDBG money that came here, we tried to decide, what are we going to do with this money, and how should we allocate it in the middle of a pandemic? We decided to use a great deal of it for small business relief, so small businesses that we worked with all over the city. To give an example, I think that we worked with almost 150 businesses. Over 50 of those were women-owned businesses and almost 50 of those were also minority-owned businesses.

So we’ve instituted, by the way, a mask mandate in Des Moines, which has helped keep our infection rate lower than the rest of the state, and I think it’s contributing to being able to keep our small businesses going and looking forward.

Watch: “Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Mark Stodola Part 2: After the gig: winning back the sharing economy” | 6:27

Mark Stodola: Let me turn now to Professor Schor. She’s heard from all four of you now, about some of the challenges and issues that you’re dealing with. Dr. Schor, your new book suggests that the sharing economy, the gig economy, that we’ve all worked on for several years and for all its promise has gotten hijacked, and we’d like to ask you to tell us how did that happen, and what can we do about it? And probably more specifically, what can folks in elected office, like these mayors, do to try and make sure that we’ve got a good balancing act going forward?

Juliet Schor: So gig economy, I mean, it was launched out of the last recession, the 2008 financial collapse, and it promised freedom from a boss with reasonable income. Generally speaking, all these employers used independent contractor status, and there’s been success on some platforms, particularly those where people have more skills. So, some of the digital platforms like Upwork, Airbnb has been really beneficial for hosts and guests, although more problematic in the larger cities where too many tourists and Airbnb guests come. But one of the things that has happened in the last years is that on some of the biggest platforms in ride-hail and delivery, workers have really been squeezed with the margins of the companies getting tighter, and they’ve been reducing wages, over-hiring, and especially in the post-pandemic era, a lot of over-hiring on some of these platforms.

So many long-term workers are finding themselves unable to get work, ride-hail collapsed to a large extent, and on some of the delivery and shopping platforms, so many new workers have come in that we’re seeing workers who’ve been working for these platforms for years who are having to go on unemployment just because they can’t get work. So cities have actually been doing a fair amount. Beginning in 2018, there’s been real momentum for some regulation of platforms, and there’s also some more out-of-the-box kinds of things happening. So, on the regulatory side, particularly in ride-hail and delivery, we’ve seen some innovations in the bigger cities and some of them are starting to move to some of the smaller.

So New York City put in a minimum wage, both the gross minimum and net of expenses for ride-hail drivers, and a vehicle cap to avoid over-hiring and excessive time basically without rides. That’s one of the biggest problems that these drivers are facing now. The Seattle City Council also just voted to put in a minimum wage, other reforms around insurance waiting times, et cetera, have also been passed. Many states have passed preemption laws, which preclude some reforms at the city level, but I think there’s always room to be creative.

In delivery, there’ve been regulations passed, emergency regulations since the pandemic, on how much of a commission delivery platforms can add on. There’s been a big boom in food delivery in a lot of the bigger cities, and I think probably some of your cities, as well. So, San Francisco, Washington, New York, Seattle, Chicago, all passed emergency caps when the pandemic began of about 15% to protect the restaurants because when the delivery platforms take too much, and they were going up to 20, 30, 40%, it really hurts the restaurants, and also some regulations requiring that tips actually go to the couriers.

Some of the companies were reducing their payments to the workers when they would get tips. So, that’s become illegal in some places. These price caps avoid price gouging, which always becomes a problem in emergency situations, and some of the smaller cities, as I said, Fremont, California; Jersey City in New Jersey, have also passed delivery caps. I think there’s another direction that cities can go in terms of gig economy, and I think we’re going to see more of this, particularly as the economy weakens, which I expect it will over the next months, and that is either city-sponsored platforms that provide an alternative to the big corporate players. So, San Francisco is considering something along these lines for delivery. They’ve been doing research on it. They have a commission. The delivery and walk, ride-hail workers in San Francisco, they’ve got some of the most problematic conditions. You’ve got something like 15% of them are on food stamps. You’ve got people sleeping in their cars. The system just isn’t working for the full-timers, and those are the majority in some of the big cities now, in ride-hail and delivery.

Another option is to support the formation of cooperatives owned by workers. In ride-hail and delivery we’ve already seen a few of those. I think they’re a really interesting option. They’re very entrepreneurial. These are mostly locally-based services, and smallish co-ops can work really well. You don’t need a giant multinational platform to deliver food.

My team did the first study of a platform, cooperative workers, very happy. They get a much higher fraction of the revenue then with the multinational platforms, and of course they keep more income in the community. So, those are some of the things that we’ve been seeing, momentum for regulation and a momentum for some innovation around new forms of ownership in the sector.

Watch: “Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Mark Stodola Part 3: Workforce dev, job training, and zip code effect” | 14:36

Mark Stodola: We’ve all had to deal with the nationwide demonstrations that we’ve seen recently against police violence that have propelled a much needed and broader conversation about the social determinants of health that drive future outcomes, things like dilapidated neighborhoods, lack of housing, food deserts, and the likes, the things that some people like to call the Zip Code Effect. I’d like to know what you mayors are doing locally to help prepare and train those that are left behind for the jobs of the future.

Mayor Steve Benjamin: We’re looking around the country at some of our colleagues, at some of the creative ideas that are born out of the incredible pain and passion that we continue to see in the streets of America right now. It was sad but timely, the last week of May, when most of us were sequestered in our homes, that we were forced to watch the public execution of George Floyd. As we sat there, I think it broke America’s heart and started this conversation that for the very first time so many of our citizens are finally feeling, as if they’re getting their voices heard, that the challenges, these intransigent issues that they’re having their voices heard.

So, what we try to do here locally is, first of all, foster a conversation in which people are actually speaking to one another and not the same people that we all deal with in our communities. We all have the same folks that we deal with when it comes to city council meetings, who might want to add value, and sometimes just raising cane, whatever it happens to be. We’re really casting a very wide net to make sure that we’re facilitating a conversation that has more people at the table. Obviously, we talked about broadband.

We also, just as I think as Frank discussed, issued a significant amount of forgivable loans throughout our community, supporting some of our small businesses that were all overlooked by PPP but helped fortify some of them through some of the very difficult times, micro loans, and now has led to another EDA loan. So, by the time we’re done, we’ve already put about $2 million out to some of our small businesses, over 300 of them, another $2 plus million coming through the EDA, working to fortifying some fledgling, small businesses, almost half of those are a form of veteran-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses.

But, also just making sure that we’re reaching deep down and providing that very platform that we all need in this interdependent, interconnected world. I’m taking some lessons from what Andy in Chattanooga have done for years. You have to have access to the information superhighway in the world in which we live, and if you don’t, it’s almost impossible to truly participate. So, we’re doing a lot of working closely with our technical college system. Many folks have marveled at some of South Carolina’s success with advanced manufacturing over the last several years. That is because we have a strong technical college system that has served as an attractor to manufacturing jobs, and those manufacturing jobs, however, tend to exist outside of the urban core.

So, we work to train people for jobs in the industry, and also work very collaboratively with our regional transportation system, a wonderful partnership coming on the go with Uber and Lyft here in our community, where folks are able to not only get to jobs outside of the traditional footprint of the transit system but also able to get to grocery stores and deal about issues of food insecurity with a credit that allows them to spend maybe a buck actually out of their pocket to get these places. So, it’s forced some really cool creativity, but we’ve got a long way to go.

Mayor Andy Berke: As you think about Chattanooga and the South, we have to acknowledge that we’re the place where Africans were brought to this country against their will. We’re the home of slavery. We’re the place where Jim Crow Laws embedded a white-supremacist agenda into our government. We’re the place where we’ve seen so much of the atrocities over the last 400 years, and so it is incumbent on all of us to really understand that and to think about how we make our city, state, and entire region a better place. So, we’ve been, I think, trying to figure out how we include everybody.

Certainly, we’re seeing a lot of strides before COVID, and the opportunity now for us is to look at some of the embedded problems that we have, the systemic issues that exist in our community and across the country, and figure out how we truly build back in a way that makes better sense and produces better results for all of our residents. I think for us, I know we’ve been looking at a lot of the things that other cities have, supporting our local businesses and through some grants and funds, but really it starts with education.

So, Chattanooga has the fastest, cheapest, most pervasive internet in the world, a fiber optic network that reaches every single home and every single business in our 600-square-mile area. Just a few weeks ago, we became the first community in the country to offer ultra, high-speed broadband to every family with a child on free or reduced lunch at zero cost. So, any Title I child has ultra, high-speed broadband at zero cost to the family. This is huge for us.

We’ve been also partnering with the school system because we closed down our Youth and Family Development centers, which is what we call what most people would call a recreation center. We’ve been partnering with the school system to do virtual learning there, so that for the families who don’t want their kids to go back to school but need a different situation for them rather than the home, there’s still a place for them to go. On top of that, we’ve really been trying to reach out to all of our communities that are suffering right now to see what we can do to help their businesses.

The biggest employer of people of color in our community are businesses of color, so we have to make sure that we support those businesses around our city. One of the things that I’ve been thinking a lot about is how we make businesses more resilient. This is COVID now, but the next time around it could… We’ve also had a tornado in the last few months. It could be a flood or anything else next. So, how do we ensure that businesses are resilient and asking questions like, “Do you have a banker? What is your internet strategy? Do you have business interruption insurance?” We put together an entire resiliency strategy for businesses, so that they can look at these questions and find out how they can connect up to it.

But I think in the long run, as we look at these issues, these are generational type of issues of people being subjected to systemic racism. We need lots of strategies that are both tactical and also really inclusive in there in how we build trust and community relationships. I know over the last few months we’ve rolled out our policing and racial equity dashboards, started conversations with people, and I think we have to have this big mix as Mayor Benjamin was talking about. What are the tactics that we’re using to include more people? But, then also, what are the conversations and the places of trust and the types of inclusive communities and stronger neighborhoods that we can build on top of these really important tactics?

Mayor Steve Williams: Because we found ourselves having to make some hard decisions but strategic decisions in years past, that’s helped us lay a foundation on which we could do some things. I really feel that we were operating about 20 years behind everybody else, and we had to be aggressively moving forward. As a result, we created what we call the Huntington Innovation Plan, the HIP plan, if you will, that was targeting three marginalized neighborhoods within the city.

Each of those neighborhoods had their own unique challenges in front of them. One had factories that had been historically there for over 100 years that had shut down, but they had been closed for 20 years. We’ve worked with US EPA and the Economic Development Administration and the Appalachian Regional Commission on being able to get Brownfield Grants into that area just to be able to build up the area. When I became mayor eight years ago, I found that there wasn’t a lot of efforts in these communities for community development programs, and I’m not meaning to dis those programs. But there wasn’t an equivalent program of pressing for economic development growth, creating jobs.

I think we all agree that the best social program around is to create a job for someone, and there was an awful lot of efforts on trying to do some things from a community development standpoint in the neighborhoods but not much was being done to actually create jobs within those neighborhoods. What we did is in each of the neighborhoods we identified, what’s the one area that needs to be addressed that can create additional jobs. The one neighborhood that’s marginalized, it’s right next to the factories, was beginning to decline substantially. We bought 100 acres of land that is right on the river, right in the middle of town, right next to a university, right down the street from a hospital, Brownfield area for us to be able to redevelop that.

There’s a historic African-American neighborhood right next to a hospital, sandwiched between a hospital and the university. We identified the hospital and the university right by their side, as they are recruiting individuals into the university and to the hospital or hiring individuals. We’ve entered into partnerships with each to hire individuals at the hospital, create housing opportunities for the faculty or for other individuals that are coming to work at the university, to be able to help replace some of the substandard housing in the area.

What we found is that as we’re creating jobs, creating partnerships… Andy and Steve each ended up pointing out about this, is that if you’re having a conversation, then you’re able to make sure that something is being done. The big problem is that when the conversations stop, everything else stops. What we’ve been able to do is build bridges so that the businesses are interacting with the individuals in the neighborhoods, the neighborhoods are sitting at the table with the CEO of a company, the president of a university, to identify, “These are our needs,” and not feeling like that is some large institution which just casts a shadow but becomes a partner in the development of the neighborhoods.

Mayor Frank Cownie: We’ve been working directly with the community to address a lot of the challenges. And specifically, we began some work with our Civil & Human Rights Commission to make and create what we think to be a more equitable Des Moines. And one of those initiatives that we began was what we called Bridging the Gap, and specifically within that, we called a piece of that Ladder Up. The Ladder Up is about the city taking an investment beyond just city services into people having the ability to move up the socio-economic ladder by investing into existing programs that either offer business startup training or up-skilling training for residents in the community.

The city’s recognized that it can’t just provide essential services, but we must also be able to provide economic opportunity. We’ll continue to look into ways to help people move up that socio-economic ladder in order to give and grow our city tax base and opportunity for all of our citizens and improve our community overall. This initiative will help promote entrepreneurship and encourage jobs and skill training for the community, which will help build Des Moines on the existing businesses that we have but also expand especially that small business group in our community.

Watch: “Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Mark Stodola Part 4: Cultivating ‘perennials’ in a graying workforce” | 10:09

Mark Stodola: By 2030, 25% of the American population will have turned 65 and will be retiring. We shouldn’t forget that the future work also means that we’ve got a lot of people retiring from jobs that we still need, to swarms of displaced workers because of automation that are in their 40s and 50s or just retired in their 60s, whether it be long-haul truck drivers, or whether it be retail clerks or bank tellers. We’ve got welders and plumbers and HVAC people that still need to come and help make sure our houses are working. I’m curious to know what you mayors are doing about those issues, about looking at the retiring workforce, and the fact that this gig economy is going to replace a lot of typical jobs that we have, particularly in the service sector industry areas.

Mayor Frank Cownie: The jobs don’t necessarily disappear for 40 and 50 year-olds and those above it. And I will say also that given what’s happening in what people are earning at social security and other things, even the people that are in that 65-70 year-old, a lot of them need to continue to work. And so we have to evolve those individuals and instead of them making widgets or whatever it was that they were doing, a lot of those people need to, quite frankly, be retained as people to service the robots that are now making the widgets.

Mayor Steve Benjamin: We realize here that innovative and smart cities not only focus on millennials or Gen Zers, but also focus on perennials, those who are 50 and over, and I like to call it the gift that keeps on giving. The reality is that prior to the pandemic, the over-50 marketplace in the U.S. was a $7.6 trillion market. If you looked at that in terms of GDP, it’d be the third largest economy in the world behind the U.S. and China. In a world in which demography is destiny, if you focus on building an age-friendly city, you’ll find that those who are over 50 and 60 are looking for the same amenities, the cultural amenities, the social amenities, the educational infrastructure, the tech infrastructure, as every other demographic. If you do that, then you’re in good shape. Now we are, yes, as your question suggests, going to see some major disruption in our economy. We’re going to see some of the trends in future of work accelerate much faster because of the pandemic.

The question is then, what are we doing to invest in our entrepreneurial ecosystem, but also, what are we doing to invest in life-long learning? What are we doing to make sure, just as Frank referenced, that these new jobs that emerge… folks don’t always like the term up-skilling and the like, but everyone believes in life-long learning. This is an inner process. We learn, we grow, but smart cities will continue to invest in life-long learning for the citizens. Our partnership with our technical system has helped to ensure that, focusing on even apprenticeships, not just for young people, but folks of all ages. There’s a whole lot more work to be done, but all of our research in the past pushes us in this direction. Now we’re going to have to put our foot on the gas because the world’s changing much more rapidly and our citizens, I might add, are adapting to these changes quicker than we are. We have to make sure that we catch up with our citizens to make sure they have the tools they need to participate in the economy of the 21st century.

Mayor Steve Williams: Let me just speak personally. What I find real interesting is that now that I am inching so close to 65, I’m not looking to stop working. And many people who are my age, we’re at the point now where we have choices that we can make, but we certainly don’t see that we are ready to stop working. What has occurred here in Huntington is with the local university, they’re arranging for classes for seniors and retired folks to be able to come in and be able to audit classes and be able to have an active participation within the university. Interestingly, the university is seeking to develop housing to encourage seniors to come to the area, be able to shelter there, but also be able to attend the university and take classes. We’re all learning from what other cities have done.

Just think of what Andy, Mayor Berke, is telling us that is occurring within Chattanooga. Every one of our cities, as you pointed out, Mark, every one of our cities is seeking to do just that is to be able to have a gigabit economy, to have a digital city effect within our communities. It’s a city that is friendly to all ages and what we’re seeking to do, one of the areas that we are targeting is making sure that we also stress the level of diversity within our community. We have been very actively and aggressively marketing just how diverse our community is and accepting it is to the LGBT community, to other ethnicities and such.

And what we’re finding is that individuals who are beginning to look, and this was before the pandemic, beginning to look, where might we be able to settle? They’re seeing what we have actually right here, and it’s amazing to me the number of individuals who are moving into the area, and it’s particularly creating an opportunity for them to, once again, because we do have a university community to connect with those students and be able to help create, again, entrepreneurial opportunities with them. It’s a matter of bridging the gap and making sure that we all stand as one community, in common unity, regardless of age.

Mark Stodola: I think you make an interesting point about the common thread of the fact that age 65 is no longer really a retirement age. It might be for social security, perhaps, but not so in terms of wanting to have a quality lifestyle. Mayor Berke, Andy, how about Chattanooga and how about some of the programs you’re doing as it relates to this growing older workforce?

Mayor Andy Berke: Well, Chattanooga started out this year really well. In January, Forbes said that we were going to be the number one city in the country for job growth. That hasn’t quite turned out that way, let me just say, but I don’t think that was 100% our fault on not having huge job growth in 2020. I think a lot of that is because that we were positioned to do that was because of some of the lessons that I learned from Kauffman when I first became mayor and investing in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and investing in innovation, which affects people in every age group, including seniors. They want to get out and get started on their own ideas as well.

We live in the age of innovation and innovation runs on talent. Talent is one of the hardest things to invest in because it’s long-term and it takes a lot of money and time and attention. But if we invest in talent, then I believe in the long run, our cities will benefit as great as any investment that we make. For us, of course we work with the local community college and all kinds of groups. We have our economic recovery alliance, which is aiming towards how we grow the number of post-secondary attainment credentials and degrees that we have in our community. But for me, I think the way I really think about this is how do we get more people to the middle class?

A couple of years ago, I did a state of the city, and I announced the Chattanooga Dream, which was really about the fact that we see so many fewer people who are succeeding at the American Dream. When my dad was growing up, there was a 90% chance that he would make more than his father at the same age. And now for millennials who are growing up, that’s less than 50%. And in places like Chattanooga, our jobs are more at-risk because of automation. We know that nearly half of our jobs are at-risk for automation, and so we’ve got to invest in people. That’s just in the long run what we’re doing. We’ve talked about the internet and providing no-cost internet to now more than 28,000 kids with low income. That’s about ensuring that people in our aging community have power. We have a mayor’s council on livability and aging. That’s about pulling together people and thinking it through. Entrepreneurship and economic recovery.

I think all of those things are really thinking about talent in our community at every age and understanding that jobs are going to continue to iterate. That’s not going to change. How do we position people to learn how to learn? How do we position people to get new skill sets? How do we help people decide what the new area is that they might be set for?