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Mayors Roundtable, hosted by RJ Berry

Fresh on the heels of Kauffman’s annual Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship, elected leaders from four cities across the United States joined host RJ Berry, former mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, to discuss how to best help small businesses prosper as part of their communities’ broader coronavirus recovery strategies.

Watch: “Mayors Roundtable, hosted by RJ Berry” | 46:55

RJ Berry, an early adopter of entrepreneurial ecosystem building, and mayors Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio, David Holt of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Randall Woodfin of Birmingham, Alabama, and Steve Adler of Austin, Texas, share how they have leveraged entrepreneurship and support for new and small businesses to help build more resilient local economies.


R. J. Berry: Welcome everybody to the inaugural Kauffman Mayors’ Council virtual Roundtable. Our topic today, with these great mayors that I will introduce in just a minute, is rebuilding better lessons in leadership for cities in the age of COVID-19. Specifically, we really want to talk about how these great cities and these great mayors are helping their entrepreneurs to grow as part of their COVID-19 economic recovery strategy. My name is Richard Berry. I was fortunate to be the mayor of a great American city, Albuquerque New Mexico from 2009 to 2017. As a former Mayor, I’m thrilled today to be joined by people that I got to know while I was mayor who I have hold in high regard, Austin, Texas Mayor, Steve Adler’s with us today, Oklahoma Mayor David Holt with us and Dayton, Ohio Mayor Nan Whaley is with us. All of these mayors are doing great things in their cities, and we look forward to what they’re going to have to share with us today.

Also, on the phone with us today is Evan Absher, Evan’s a senior program officer in Entrepreneurship with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. And they are the sponsor of today’s events. And as just a brief overview, the Kauffman Foundation works with entrepreneurs to empower them with tools and resources and work to break down barriers that stand in the way of starting and growing their businesses.

If you’d like to learn more about Kauffman, you can go to Kauffman with two Fs, kauffman.org. And if you’d like to reach out to the mayor’s council, which is a four person council made up of former mayors, you’re welcome to do that at mayors@kauffman.org.

Let’s jump right in and hear from these four great mayors. Really, we’re going to hit on three things today. We’d like you to set the stage of what the COVID pandemic economically and for entrepreneurs and small businesses has meant for your city in particular. As we talked earlier, Birmingham has a different economy than Austin and Dayton’s different than Oklahoma City. So, we’ll have you each go through and explain what it means and what’s happening in your city. And then we really want to get into the meat of some of the great initiative that all four of you have, so that people that are tuning in today can learn from this experience and learn from your leadership. And then we’ll talk a little bit about what the next level of help that would be meaningful for cities and what you’re seeing your local entrepreneurs do.

So let’s jump into this. We know that every economy’s different. Mayor Whaley, maybe we’ll start with Dayton, compare and contrast a little bit since you were also mayor at the end of the great recession of this economic situation and what you’re facing.

Mayor Nan Whaley: You’re right, I became mayor in January of 2014 and we started to really start seeing the uptick post-recession, really taking hold in that year. Dayton experienced, I would say probably the second worst recession in the country, right behind Detroit. To give you a sense of it, we lost around 65,000 jobs, which was 16% of all jobs in Dayton, which is an enormous number, just because of the manufacturing sector that we hold with both automotive and aerospace. And being a supply chain, we’re about an hour North of Cincinnati and three hours South of Detroit, right on the 75 corridor. And so that supply chain for automotive and aerospace is a big part of our economy. It still is but I think what we learned in the great recession, particularly in Dayton was how to diversify our economy. And we’ve been very, very aggressive about that.

It has helped us in this COVID recession because we’re not reliant like we were on just one sector of employment and actually, while we’re seeing significant trouble, like every other city in America, I think every city in America is having significant issues during the COVID recession. We actually, for the first time are the city at the bottom of the list around the effect it’s going to have compared to other Ohio cities. So, we really flipped where we were at the top of that list during the great recession. It’s still very, very difficult, particularly for our small businesses and small retail businesses, particularly restaurants, bars, those folks that you don’t necessarily invest in as a city, right.

We try to invest in the jobs that create those jobs, but those are the community that people feel and see and touch. And so, as we look at these devastating numbers around COVID, we experienced those losses in Dayton as well, pretty much at the same pace as the rest of the country. The difference R.J, is we were way worse than the recession and the rest of the country. So we celebrate being on par in the middle of this time and we really believe that if we get federal health we can weather this just fine. And that’s really, I think what most American mayors are feeling that this feels different than the recession for us in Dayton, because the Dayton was a structural imbalance about our economy.

And this is, we’ll look at the federal government would just do their job and provide stimulus to American cities. So we knew the work of saving lives and making sure that our cities keep on running and we don’t have to lay people off, which would also affect the economic efforts of our community. We’ll get through this. And so I think that’s how we all really, when I’m talking to mayors, I think we all really feel. It’s something that is not in our hands, which is very frustrating as a mayor, but really, really important to us. And I think that’s the economic issues that we’re seeing in Dayton and across the country.

R. J. Berry: Thanks Mayor. How about Austin? Mayor Adler. You got a very diverse economy, but walk us through your situation please.

Mayor Steve Adler: Well, we probably have kind of the extremes that cities are dealing with all across the country. Austin is an idea city. It’s an innovation city and some of the key players in that are the ones that can adjust to life in a pandemic. With large parts of their workforce, able to work at home. We have some of our companies in town that have already announced that they just assume their workers stay at home until the summer of 21 because things are doing okay for them, the way that they operate. So, the tech people that are in our city, like Asphalt, 3M, and Amazon and Facebook that are some of our drivers though, the Army’s future command located in Austin to be able to take advantage of the innovation are the ones that in this environment are holding their own.

But Austin at its core is also the live music capital of the world. And it’s really hard to do live music right now. Mayor Whaley mentioned restaurants, all its restaurants and bars and venues, these are places that are built around people gathering in a social context. So, I’m looking at some horrific losses already of institutions in my city that are not capitalized to be able to adjust lay or lie dark for a substantial period of time. And it’s hurting the city not just restaurants, bars, venues, but some of the tools that are so important for our economy, being able to function things like childcare. We’re just not set up with their resources to be able to preserve the systems and the institutions that are on the edge in our city.

We have both of those extremes and Within that universe, our economy is looking at the same kind of disparate impact that cities are looking at all across the country. We have communities, especially communities of color that in our Southern town, can point real directly back to policy decisions, policies that were made 100, 150 years ago in intentionally do disadvantage communities. And it is in such stark relief right now. In our city those kinds of structural challenges we have that are institutionalized within our economy in our city. Those become the challenges that we have. What we need right now, we’re trying to do as best we can locally with with the tools that we have and people pitching together, but we need the federal government to come in because the challenge is much greater than the one that we can plus saw even pulling together as a community.

We’re going to try to hold on and bring everybody through this together as best we can relying on those elements of our city that I can help hold the others through.

R. J. Berry: Mayor Holt, let’s let us turn our attention to Oklahoma City for just a minute. How are things shaping up there?

Mayor David Holt: Well, we are historically viewed as being overly reliant on the energy industry, which was certainly true for a long time and why we suffered in the 1980s. But we’ve diversified so much that we were really weathering what was already an oil and gas recession that was happening even before COVID-19. When we entered the pandemic in March, we had the number one lowest unemployment of all the large cities in the country. We’ve also got a burgeoning visitor industry and a growing innovation district adjacent to downtown. So, we feel like we were in a pretty good position, regardless of what the price of oil and gas used to be the leading indicator for how Oklahoma city’s economy was going.

Well, then obviously the pandemic arrived, we fell for a number one all the way down the list. I mean, even though it was hitting everybody else too, for whatever reason, we went, I think to 36, lowest unemployment among large city. And then, I mean, this has all been in the course of just a few months as everybody knows, we suddenly whipped all the way back and our most recent report was that we’re third. So that’s good news relative to the rest of the country. We had the third lowest unemployment. It’s still 7%. So it’s still three times what it was, as recently as February. So, we still have work to do, but I’m sort of cautiously optimistic. And our most recent sales tax check and Oklahoma were heavily reliant on sales. Our most recent sales tax check was only down one and a half of 1% year-to-year, which we’re kind of consider almost inexplicably.

So, we’re trying to figure out if that’s sustainable or not, but it is encouraging. So economically, despite some really tough sledding that we’ve had to deal with the last few months, we think maybe we’re coming out of it, but as mayor Adler just alluded to, obviously the last thing to recover is going to be your live music, your hotels, we’re just about to open a $300 million convention center, which in a sense, couldn’t open at a worst time that we built it for the long run. So, I mean, I’m not overly upset about that. I mean, we’ll get there. People will meet again, people will travel again, but that’s obviously the types of economic activities that are going to be slowest to recover.

Fortunately, in a sense, we’re not as reliant on those industry, but we are trying to grow them. This last five years have been key for our visitor economy and our live music economy. We’re trying to grow that.

R. J. Berry: Mayor Woodfin welcome. Walk us through Birmingham and what you’re seeing, you’ve been in office several years now. So you can compare and contrast pre-COVID to today and how things there?

Mayor Randall Woodfin: We’ve seen in the last six months, projected a $63 million shortfall we’re solving for, and how will we make our economy fit this new normal if we’re going to be in the global pandemic an additional six months or 12 months. And so, we’re focused on how do we pivot, how do we move healthcare, which is our strongest industry, not only to telemedicine but personalized medicine. And so that’s something we’re focused on as well as we need to pivot from some of the things that are aren’t working and put people back to work.

R. J. Berry: Thank you, mayor. I want to pivot a little bit into, and this is really why I’m so thrilled to have the four of you on, what are you doing? You have your work that you do, you have ambitious agendas, you ran for office, you’re all succeeding. You’re all doing great work, but main street entrepreneur-ism, mom-and-pops closing, generational wealth going away, people of color being impacted at a much greater level than others, access to capital, all these things

Mayor Steve Adler: To a large degree we’re trying to stop bleeding. We knew pretty early the kind of impact this was going to have. We canceled the South by Southwest, which is a big part of our economy in the city, started talking about that toward the end of February of the year and made that call. And the first couple of days in March and on the day that we did that, not knowing how long or how involved this was going to be. We knew that on that day. We had taken many businesses in our city and meant that their survival for the was in question, even if the virus recovery had been quick. As a city, we immediately stopped filling positions that were vacant. We started cutting discretionary spending in the city knowing that we were going to have to figure out what we were doing.

We made the city government as lean as we could as quickly as we could. Unfortunately, we are not in a position where you had to furlough or let people go or reduce compensation. But it’s close. We were fortunately one of the cities to receive the CARES Act funding. We got about $170 million from that and with other federal funding, probably just over $200 million, as immediate money that has been immediately put to use big part of it, paying for the virus, for public health response in our city. But we’ve taken a little over a $100 million of it to support individualism businesses, started focusing real early and real quickly on making sure that people had food to eat and that they weren’t losing their homes.

So a lot in rental relief, a lot in providing food, making sure that we were providing relief, not only to those people that are eligible for federal funding individually, but making sure that we were also reaching people that are not eligible for federal funding then are also our neighbors and live in our community. We had a nine different financial programs we created in six months focusing on childcare and rent, musicians, creative spaces, creative workers, small businesses, nonprofits. We put in policies to forestall evictions that went farther than what the federal government had done and still maintain those in our city. Now working also on landlord relief as well, because now they’re not getting grant, they still have mortgage payments to be able to make.

A real hard push on everything we’re doing on equity, because at the same time we’re doing this, we’re also being confronted in very direct ways with disparities in our city and systemic racism and institutional inequities in our city. Trying to build back and create new programs in ways that are more like who we aspire to be when cities go through times where we’re of such disruption, we’re so many dreams and so many plans are taken off the table. Cities are left with a white board to create and do. And out of the great depression you had the new deal that changed people in communities and opportunity. And we’re trying to take a look at that in our city right now the same kind of way.

We’re going to move forward with this election, we’ll find out from the community, I guess in November the degree to which people want to be looking forward and positioning our city to be bigger, better, stronger, fair, more just than we’ve ever been as we build back and aspire to be what we always wish we were.

R. J. Berry: Nice. Thanks Mayor. Mayor Woodfin, I know you’re working with Accelerator on a recovery playbook and you’re part of that national movement and one of the leaders in that with them. Can you describe a little bit of that process and the process you’re going through in Birmingham to launch people forward coming out of this, not even knowing when the end is at this point?

Mayor Randall Woodfin: Well, the first thing I think is important to acknowledge that some of the work we did here on the ground, knowing that we didn’t know when CARES funding or any federal funding would get here. Well, Birmingham, everything hit rock bottom in March. And we knew that a lot of our small businesses were anywhere between 10 and 14 days of cashflow. And so we immediately moved to a form of public private partnership, created an organization called BhamStrong. And we as a local community offered direct loan to our small businesses as a lifeline, because we didn’t know if there will be federal funding. And if there was federal funding, when they’d come. So that was the first thing we did. And that was the whole idea of the small businesses make up the backbone of our tax base, then we need to do everything we can to take care of them.

And many small businesses were able to participate in that, including minority owned, black owned, women owned. We did move to say, “Okay, it’s not enough.” Somehow some way we have to figure out to create a program lead hourly workers who’ve been laid off or consider those 17,000 people I mentioned earlier, who applied for unemployment insurance. So the same BhamStrong program. We created a service Corps program that allowed us to directly engage these people who had been laid off due to the coronavirus. Some form of community service related to solving for the issues of coronavirus and tracking, and tracing and transportation, and all the things centered around providing services directly to the community due to the negative impact of the coronavirus.

We were able out of this BhamStrong fund pays the unemployed people who could still seek some form of unemployment insurance a significant amount of money, where they can still work a significant amount of hours during the week to offset their loss of funding from their employment. And those are the main two things we’ve done over the last six months. We then moved to partnering with Hope and other organizations, because we knew that when the federal money was available in a city like Birmingham, where you have 74% minority black population a lot of the small business owners don’t have the relationship with banks. They don’t have the relationship with the banker. So that meant they weren’t even at the end of the line, they were not in line period to receive any that federal CARES money related to those loans.

In partnership, we were able to establish a banking relationship to make sure when the second round of CARES funding was available for small business owners to apply for that minority on, black on, and women on could participate here in the city of Birmingham. Those are the three of the things that we really push, because it sounds around taking care of small business owners, taking care of these hourly employees who’ve been laid off. Also, making sure minority business owners could participate and leveraging some of those loans from the federal government.

R. J. Berry: Thank you mayor. Mayor Holt, let’s go there. Your city is on what? 27 year renaissance. You started this project MAPS back in 1993. You’re the fourth mayor that’s doing that. So you had MAPS 1, revitalizing downtown, you had MAPS for kids and you had MAPS 3 that had your convention center and some of your other public improvements, and you’re really taking a unique approach on MAPS 4. Could you explain to people that don’t know what the acronym MAPS means, where it’s calm and how you’re taking that to the next level. I know for example and this one, you’ve got a$25 million civil rights center in there. You’ve got 70% of the dollars going towards wellbeing and human nature things. Walk us through that a little bit and tell us how that’s going to help coming out of COVID.

Mayor David Holt: Yeah, this most recent iteration passed before COVID, but I do feel like it is our post pandemic stimulus plan. And it seems like the subject matter that we selected over the course of 2019 has really turned out to be timely and prescient. But it all goes back as you alluded to it in 1993, our voters approved temporary 1 cent sales tax to fund stuff that we didn’t have. It was really kind of a cherry on top kind of projects. It’s never been for police stations or water pipes or streets. It’s always been for quality of life projects. But the definition of quality of life has evolved as you also kind of recap.

I came along in 2018 with the opportunity to pursue a MAPS 4 because it’s always been temporary. We’ve been able to sell it as not a tax increase, just replacing the penny that had previously been approved by the voters. And so to do that, I had to steward this ship through the course of 2019 and have a vote in December of ’19. And as you said, we took it in a little bit of different direction MAPS one and three had been focused on kind of fun things and visitor economy type things and mostly downtown. But we found that the appetite of the electorate in this city and the needs of our people in this city were more tilted towards issues like domestic violence and homelessness and opportunities to recognize our civil rights history and learn from it for the future.

And so we ended up with a package of projects that as you said, with 70% human needs and neighborhood needs, whereas that had been an almost non-existent percentage of previous MAPS. And now looking forward with the challenges that we have and the challenges that we’ve always had, but maybe you’re only now confronting in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, this package feels perfect. And the timing obviously couldn’t be better. So now over the course of the next 10 years, we already have thanks to the voter support in 2019, the commitment of a billion dollar investment into 16 different projects that cover the things I’ve already mentioned. Additionally, like a diversion hub, helping people who have who are engaging with the criminal justice system, get job training and mental health and substance abuse services.

If you’re interested, go to okc.gov/maps4 and you can look at the 16 projects that we approved last year. In the short-term of course we are also working on the more acute sort of crisis needs that the pandemic has presented to us. I did want to mention that briefly and beginning with, of course, because I want Nan to keep talking to me after this call, I need to mention the need for federal supportive cities. As we move forward, especially saying that as a city like Austin, that did get some support I’m very conscious of the fact that Dayton and 100 other cities across the United States got nothing and have had to go and beg their governors who have not always been very helpful in that regards. And even still, my city and Austin and the dollars that might come through a state conduit are still pretty restricted. And they don’t really, at this point meet the revenue loss needs that lots of cities have.

So everybody in the country has gotten some kind of assistance in maintaining their business. Our business is government and here in Oklahoma city, we have 4,800 employees. And I know these other cities employ a lot of people as well, and they’re not getting that same. They can’t apply for PPP, and so they’ve had to tighten their belts, which has meant job loss. And it’s also meant service losses for the people in their communities. Here in Oklahoma city, we did try to use our CARES Act dollars. We created a special program, the small business continuity program, and we have put out $17 million through that to support small businesses in our city limits, usually with small grants or loans around $10,000.

But I wanted to hit this real quick because I alluded to it in my last answer. Now that we’ve reached a phase where most businesses have at least the opportunity to operate at some level, we’re really focusing in on those that really don’t have that opportunity at all and that is live music venues. And just last week, our council approved $2 million of that 17 just for live music venues here in the city with grants up to $250,000. So these are much, much larger grants. But it recognizes the fact that these are very large businesses that have zero revenue right now and no prospect of any revenue for a long time. So, we’re trying to use our CARES Act dollars to shore up that sort of last remaining industry that doesn’t have any chance of competing in the economy anytime soon.

R. J. Berry: Thanks Mayor Holt. Mayor Holt TGO up nicely there, Mayor Whaley, I share the kudos and I know that earlier in your administration, you founded the Dayton regional manufacturing task force. I know I’ve seen you work in your leadership role at the Conference of Mayors. Let’s have you wrap up this round by talking about some of the things you’re doing in Dayton and then some of the things maybe that you’re seeing folks in the conference do as well.

Mayor Nan Whaley: I think what most of the mayors said is we’re focusing on two things and different ways, and the mayor of Columbus, Ohio, affectionately calls them cops and COVID, and I think that’s what the work is that’s underway right now, the significant issue of police efforts and citizen and civil unrest and communities all across the country and how we can do better and ways that we can dismantle systemic racism in a lot of our systems. In our city is a big part of our job right now, because we’ve been given this great opportunity by the citizens of Dayton, which I’m excited about. It is interesting and really, very, I know we always say this, but it’s probably the most unique time to be a mayor of a city right now. Particularly because of these two issues at the same time. And probably they wouldn’t have occurred this way had they not both been here.

And my city, which is around 40% African-American, it is still deeply segregated and too unequal. And what I’ve witnessed this past June and July is half the city woke up and realized what the other half of the city has been experiencing every single day, that racism is real, that it exists and that we all play a part in it. And so, that work is underway in our community with huge numbers of people working on the process during COVID, which I think has been amazing to see these Zoom conversations while we still try to protect ourselves and try to get outcomes to affect change which I think is what we all do when we try to become mayor. So that work is underway.

And then of course, the issue around COVID, both, I think a lot of us are dealing with colleges going back and how we’re managing that and congregate living sites and spikes of daily numbers of how our hospitals look and riding this wave of COVID, I think is something that we’ll all hopefully be in Austin next June and say like, “God, I never want to go through that again.” But it’s made me, I can say, learn an awful lot about the healthcare system, learn a lot about things that don’t really make a lot of sense. I’ve been keeping notes, so we can get through the other side and say like, “Why do we do it this way?” And I think that there’s going to be lots of opportunity for transformative change and this transformational change in this as well.

And then finally, I’ll say what Mayor Holt said so nicely, there are 38 cities that are 500,000 or more, two of them are on this call.  Many of us did receive a trickle-down CARES from our state governors, not nearly the amount that we would have gotten if a direct allocation. And those dollars are not for revenue replacement. And so most cities, particularly, I would say, Ohio has been hit particularly hard about this, New York as well. I would argue probably sales tax will get a little tough in fourth quarter, David, considering they still can’t figure out how to get unemployment to people. And if people don’t have any money, then they probably won’t be paying that sales tax.

And so you’ll see that a little later but a lot of communities are feeling this right now because of the way that they’re funded through income tax particularly and Ohio is one of them. So, we are fighting super hard on this to make sure that every city gets direct funding and aid in the next stimulus package. And I do believe that there will be one, particularly as I look at Goldman Sachs having I think 1800 small businesses sign onto a letter because of them hanging on by their fingernails. There is definite need for another stimulus, every economist left and right says so. We just need, the federal government to do what mayors do every day, which is do their damn job. And that’s what we’re looking for.

R. J. Berry: Let’s end today with kind of real freelance, anything you want to talk about, but it’s part of the Kauffman Foundation’s work they’ve been instrumental in America’s new business plan. And that really is kind of the core of what we’re trying to talk about today and you’ve done a great job as mayors of hitting on this. But there’s these four pillars to the business plan to be abl to start and grow entrepreneurship in communities. And this is geared towards policy makers in particular, but it talks about opportunity, a level playing field. The business plan talks about funding, equal access to capital, which we’re hearing a lot in the right kind of capital. Knowledge, how to start a business. If your business that you work for is suffering, and isn’t going to make it through this, and you want to pick up the pieces and go forward. How do you learn how to do that? If you don’t have family to go to or someone else.

And then finally, support. The ability for everybody to take a risk and how do you provide benefits? How do you provide healthcare, retirement plans, some of those things. So if the listeners today want to read about America’s new business plan, you can connect through kauffman.org as well. It’s a pretty good read. And a lot of thought went into that to try to build this. So mayors, let’s each take a closing round and tackle a couple of things, tackle what you’re hearing from your entrepreneurs, what do they need? We know what cities need, we know stimulus, we’re hearing some of that. Expound on that maybe a little bit, but then maybe take us to main street for just a minute. And what’s the third generation restaurant tour telling you what are the people in your community, how do they wrap and racial justice into this?

Mayor Randall Woodfin: Hey this is a great way to end. And I will tell you that one of the things I did, I thought it was important. And this was before the global pandemic started. And we were in all of this, all these crises at one time. I created a small business council, many times mayors coming office and we think we know what’s best for small businesses. We campaign about what should be done, small businesses, but then we get an office, there’s not a lane for existing, small business owners to be at the table, constantly providing adequate and updated information to you about what’s going on on the ground to keep a post.

So, as an office and an administration as local government, we can move with them and ship with them if we need to, that’s helped us a lot. That’s how we were able to get this BhamStrong off the ground, literally within one and a half weeks of the coronavirus, because we understood the pulse of our small businesses. I think moving forward, it’s going to be really, really, really important that mayors and municipal will governments, administrations have a sense of urgency and keep what are the needs of small business owners on main street at the farm or whatever their agenda is. Because if you don’t take care of main street, I don’t want you not to like taxes. But what will happen is they’ll just go to some other city that governance with an open hand for how to engage more business.

So for us, we’ve continued to do surveys, that’s one. Two, we have implemented a study that engages our small businesses for black owned and women often do better and how they engage city hall. Third thing we’ve done is simply say to anybody that wants to open a business, we will hold your hand as long as we need to, to walk with you through whatever process needed, whether that’s creating a lane access to capital through a third party banking, whatever it is. The main thing for us is to do at the table. What I just told you is a lot of words, it’s not policy, but I think the main thing is the commitment as an administration, you have to have a commitment to main street to your small business owners, to those who want to take risks and become small business owners, if you community going to be successful.

R. J. Berry: How optimistic are you that we’re going to make some real progress?

Mayor Randall Woodfin: I’m very optimistic and here’s why, I think for the first time in a long time in America, in all 50 states and at the local level, everyone participating in the conversation post George Ford’s death, this conversation is not isolated to City Hall. It is in the corporate boardroom, it’s at the C-suite level, it’s on the ground level between black and white employees for any company.  It’s on main street, it’s in small businesses. There was ever a time in America for us to push this envelope, I don’t want to racial equity and social justice, but what can we do to diversify and lend support to those who want to be at the table, now it’s time.

R. J. Berry: Mayors, jump in.

Mayor Nan Whaley: Yeah, I agree with Mayor Woodfin. I mean, I think we’re in a really special moment here and it’s really up to us and up to our communities, if we’re going to see real difference here. But it’s certainly something I’ve never experienced or felt in my lifetime. And I think it has a lot to do too with the generation younger than me. And I think Randall’s in that generation, I think he is that is about this impatience for change. And I think I’m experiencing a generational switch in  my community and that is this impatience to make things happen. And I think that’s very exciting right now. I think we’re going to see like an awful lot of disruption through the COVID and things on the other side are going to look different and let’s hope they look different for the better and that we don’t just completely switch out the entire middle class to two classes.

It’s going to take these policy decisions on this and investing in it and investing in places that I live in and all of us live in to make that happen. I think what’s really exciting and hopeful. Disruptions can be for good and they can be for bad and let’s have one that is for good. And I think that’s the hope right now.

Mayor David Holt: It’d be hard to add much. I would say that from a big picture view, we’ve tried to build a community for entrepreneurs where they want to live and where they want to work. And that for us was about creating a quality of life that would attract young professionals. Now that we’ve made so much progress on that, I think we’re getting down to more nitty-gritty issues. In our MAPS 4, I didn’t mention earlier, but we’re investing in an innovation district. So now it’s not just about a city that people want to live in, but it’s in a specific hub where people will interact and engage and be entrepreneurs. But I think now with the awakening that we’re having in our country, after the murder of George Floyd, I think we’re going to have a lot more conversations about how do we extend these opportunities and lift up all communities because let’s be candid.

I mean, I’m sure it’s the same in Austin and we’ve all aspired to be Austin, but what Austin has been so great at and what places like Oklahoma City have tried to do is attracting highly educated and let’s be real I mean, white, upper middle-class entrepreneurs and we wanted that and that’s great, but we haven’t been as focused on how do we lift up people, maybe in our own communities who already live here who are people of color, who haven’t had those opportunities. And I think that’s the new frontier that cities are going to be grappling with. We’ve spent a lot of time in the last quarter century and all of our large American cities chasing something that maybe we could have done a better job of trying to create amongst the people who already lived here. But we were overlooking.

And I’ll echo what the other mayor said that more people are having that kind of conversation than I’ve ever seen before, across all demographics and across all socioeconomic levels. And that is encouraging and does give you optimism that things will change, but it will be obviously a slow path forward.

Mayor Steve Adler: The times that we’re in right now are calling for and presenting an opportunity for real significant change on lots of different levels. I mean a lot of the systems we have are now broken a lot of the people and the plans that people had, can’t be realized on the path that they had originally thought they could. We’re dealing now with real race and social justice questions and realizations, and then looking at ourselves in ways that we hadn’t before, the way that we talk to one another and meet with one another on a routine basis, these Zoom calls, become a big part of people’s lives. This is an opportunity and a moment for real significant change.

The difficulty with change is that change comes hard and it’s hard for two reasons. One is, is that people get scared with change because it’s unsettling and it’s unknown. When you also start dealing with change, you’re dealing with significant inertia, which makes change difficult. So as we head into a political season, as we go into November, I think what is on the ballot is that question of change the comfort that people have with respect to being able to look forward at the possibilities and the potential verses uncertain time where people want to have and hold onto as little changes they can in order to weather as little disruption, as possible.

There are arguments that could be made both ways on that issue. And I think that’s what cities are facing and there’s unrest in communities across the country because you’ll have different advocates pointing for different things within cities. We’re dealing with that right now in our city. And policing probably is the point of the spear. Everyone in our city believes that public safety is the first priority and what we need to work on, most everyone in my community recognizes the importance of policing and police in our community. But the broader conversation about whether or not, and to what degree policing is different than the broader conversation about public safety. People enter that conversation from two very different places.

Conversations about the infrastructure package we have in November, entering it from two very different places. From where I sit, I think for me that the cities that will be doing well three years from now, four years from now, eight years from now, are going to be the cities that embrace change, that embrace this as the opportunity to do significantly different, to take advantage of the moment, to be able to look at themselves and do things differently. But I also recognize that that change only happens at the speed of trust and the communities that are able to maintain that level of general trust in their institutions and in their leaders and in their systems are going to be the ones that are able to succeed on that kind of an agenda.

It’s going to be real interesting 10 years from now to look at the cities that are doing well and look back at this moment to see what it was that happened in those cities.

R. J. Berry: That’s well-spoken Mayor Adler. And let me just end by saying, you know what, for myself and my family, every day as a mayor was a blessing, it’s probably the greatest job in American politics and some would argue, but really cities are where things get done. It’s where innovation happens fastest. It’s where the mayor sees folks at the grocery store, at church, on main street. Every day there is no installation and the four of you demonstrated today, just how connected you are with your communities. Thank you for sharing the work that’s being done in your administrations under your leadership to take your cities forward. And we hope that folks will learn if they take time to tune in. They will get some great ideas and they reach out to us to follow up on something you said today, we’ll reach back out to you in the meantime we’d just invite everybody watching today to go to kauffman.org.

You can connect with us there and that’ll help connect with these mayors. You can sign up for the Mayors Congress on entrepreneurship, which will be an online event coming up this month on the 17th and 18th. We’re inviting all mayors to that. Get on there and talking to one of the four mayors that’s on the mayor’s council with this now. And I want to thank you, Evan and Kauffman Foundation for their sponsorship today and just really wish everyone well. Thanks for sharing your ideas and thoughts and leadership with us today.

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