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Opinion: Washington Could Learn from America’s Mayors

Andrew Ginther and Bryan K. Barnett Andrew Ginther and Bryan K. Barnett Opinion: Washington Could Learn from America’s MayorsPhoto via Mayor Ginther's Facebook Page
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Michigan and Ohio. Republican and Democrat. These may seem like unbridgeable divides these days, but when it comes to running cities, all that matters is what works. And Columbus is offering the country lessons for smart economic development that transcends politics. 

That’s why this week, we brought the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors to Columbus, Ohio, to discuss how the city drives sustainable economic development with innovative solutions.

In Washington, D.C., partisanship often gets in the way of meaningful solutions. But as mayors, we see the issues that affect our citizens up close every day, and we can’t afford to worry about politics. We just have to get things done. 

What’s clear is that today, and for the foreseeable future, cities are going to be the engine of our nation’s economic growth, and we must continue to empower cities if America is going to continue to compete in a global economy. The numbers tell the story. In 2017, cities were home to 86% of the nation’s population and 88% of total employment. In fact, metro areas added 1.9 million jobs in 2017, accounting for 96% of all U.S. job gains. And Columbus has been helping to lead the way, with 16% growth in jobs since 2000. 

As mayors, it’s our job to empower our citizens and give them the tools they need to be successful. Here in Columbus, mayors learned about the city’s “Opportunity Zones,” a community development program that is encouraging new, long-term investment in property or businesses in areas that need it the most. One of Columbus’s great prospects for growth lies in the success of the city’s small businesses and entrepreneurs, and these “Opportunity Zones” are another tool to help Columbus residents have the funding they need to start a business or invest back into the community.

The city recently opened its new Smart Columbus Experience center, where residents can learn how new mobility options – such as autonomous, shared and electric vehicles – are making Columbus a more connected community. 

Like so many places, Columbus’ greatest asset is its residents. We saw that with the #SavetheCrew initiative – the grassroots groundswell of fans that helped with the effort to keep Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew SC here in Ohio, where it rightfully belongs. 

There’s still more work to be done – and mayors are leading the charge for common sense solutions. For example, as automation continues to play a bigger role in Ohio’s and Michigan’s economies, we need to be prepared to address the impact of technology disruptions in our communities. We need to invest in training for the jobs that exist in today’s economy – and the jobs that will exist in the future. And we must increase opportunities for everyone by investing in inclusive neighborhoods, affordable housing and community development. 

All of this achievable. It just requires placing a greater priority on solutions rather than partisanship. When Americans look to our federal leaders, they see dysfunction and chaos. Divisive rhetoric and political divides create false choices and stall our ability to get things done. Mayors know that everyone does better when we unite to address our biggest challenges and move beyond partisan, racial, gender, religious or class divides to create stronger, safer and healthier communities.  

Whether it’s how we’re growing in Columbus or suburban Detroit, we think that Washington, D.C. could learn a thing or two from America’s mayors.

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