Remarks by Secretary Andrew Cuomo
Empowerment Zone Roundtable
Wednesday, February 10, 1999
SECRETARY CUOMO: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. That was such a kind introduction, I can only go downhill from there. Your Mayor [Sharon Sayles Belton], as you know, because you see first hand her product and her talent and her skills, she is a national star. I worked with her at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. When your Mayor comes to the floor and takes the podium and she speaks, the nation's Mayors listen, they really do. And I want to thank her for her leadership, not just in the city of Minneapolis, but for the nation. Showing the nation what cities can do and how cities can come back when we work together and when we have great leadership. Thank you very much.
I also want the record to show that many people come visit you during the summer, when you have the lakes and you can go fishing and you can go skiing, but it is true love to visit Minneapolis in the winter, but I wouldn't miss it. We're very excited about your empowerment zone designation and we wanted to come see you right away to start to talk about what the next steps are, and that's build on the energy and develop some momentum, because this is a great, great success that you have had.
We determined the winners of the empowerment zone program - I've been working with the program for six years - the competition was so severe this year, we had 120 cities applying for only 15 slots, 120 cities. And these cities were for years literally working on their applications and they were great plans and smart plans, hours and hours had been spent. So to win one of these 15 slots is a tremendous, tremendous victory, and you should be proud because you made it happen. If we can just keep that energy going: if you won that competition, boy, you can do anything. And we're looking forward to doing it together.
It's a pleasure to be with the City Council President, with Peter McLaughlin who we've worked with in the past. Ted Mondale who's a friend and family friend, it seems like hundred years ago, we've done great things together and we'll continue to do more.
I don't want to take a lot of time because I more want to hear from you. But let me make a couple of quick points if I can, just to give you the context for what the empowerment zone is all about. The President gave the State of the Union address a few weeks ago. And in the State of the Union address he spoke about how well the nation is doing - and the accomplishment record of this nation is historical and undeniable. We're breaking every record ever established. I remember four or five years ago the best minds in the nation - on the economy - saying that you couldn't have this type of economic growth, it was impossible. We're doing it, the nation is that strong, the economy is that strong. Welfare is down, crime is down, poverty is down, all the arrows headed in the right direction. Phenomenal picture of an American success story. Better than anyone could have predicted. And that is the State of the Union, and that is the speech the President gave.
At the same time he said there was another story within that story, that that great American success is not being shared by everyone or every place. And that the best definition of American success, the truest definition of success is when the most people share in that success story.
So the President had what I think is really the profound vision and courage and leadership to say, let's look at what we're doing right and build on it. But let's also take the time to look at the places that are not doing as well and build there. That's the real sign of leadership. Why? Number one, unless we take the places that are not performing as well and bring them up to speed we're not going to continue to grow economically. You look at the numbers here in Minneapolis. For the economy to grow we need more and more trained workers.
I go all across the country, every business has the same story, I need the workers, I can't find them. Find me the people, I'll train them, I'll educate them, I'll do whatever I have to do, I'll drive them back and forth, but I need the work force. I can't grow my business without the work force. Where is the work force? In the areas that have been left behind.
What is the state-wide employment, unemployment rate, 2.4 percent, state-wide, 2.4 percent. Very tight labor pool like the rest of the nation. What's the unemployment in the empowerment zone, 14 percent. You want workers' business, they are in the empowerment zone, that's where the workers are. Businesses need a market, it's in the empowerment zone. Tremendous consumer purchasing power in the poorer areas of our nation.
They did one study that came out a few weeks ago that said if you just add up the purchasing power of the poorest census tracts in the nation, it comes out to about 85 billion dollars, which is the entire purchasing power of the country of Mexico. So there is a lot of business to be done in empowerment zones. That's where the labor pool, that's where the potential buying power is; develop those areas for the good of the nation. That's one reason.
Second reason is, because if you want to truly declare yourself a success as a nation we must hold ourselves to a higher standard then just the size of our bank book. Just because the stock market is going great guns doesn't mean that we are a success as a nation. We don't value ourselves purely by our economics. How cohesive are we as a society? How well have we done at forging community? How do we treat those who have been left behind? And that's a better measure of success, a truer measure of success. And when you have the kind of disparity that we have in this nation to this day, you're not a success.
I don't care how great your economy is - when you have one out of five children sleeping in poverty tonight, you can't claim success. When you have the gross inequality between whites and blacks that you have in the city of Minneapolis, you can't claim success, that is not a success story. Let's own up to it and let's address those issues head-on.
Let's take that great strength that we now have as a nation, and let's funnel it and marshal it and say let's beat those obstacles that we haven't been able to beat for so long. That's what the President is saying, that is what empowerment zones are all about. Let's get into those places, let's roll up our sleeves, and let's work together, and let's make a real difference.
The way we do it then, the empowerment approach which the President championed means first of all, we can't do it from Washington, DC: only you can do it, only the city can do it, only the private sector can do it, only the county can do it, and only if you come together. Create jobs, create wealth in the empowerment zone, create opportunity in the empowerment zone: we all will benefit. Bring the private sector, get Lloyd, bring him into the zone, grow his business. Why, because we love Lloyd, yes, because we love Lloyd and because if he creates jobs that's good for the zone, that's good for the people in the zone, that's good for the city, that's good for the nation.
Make those marriages, public and private, make them across the country. They are good business for the country. Incentivize the private businesses to go into areas where they wouldn't have gone - yes, because it's a good investment. Make them a Government loan, incentivize them to go where they wouldn't have gone. It is a winning formula.
We've been doing it for six years, we know that it's working. You look at the energy and the momentum that you have, we know that it's working, we know that it's the right pursuit, we now just have to make it happen. We just have to now take this great strength and great potential and realize it for everyone everywhere. That's what empowerment zones are all about, that's what you're doing here in the city, and that's what is our pleasure to partner with you in. You've done an amazing thing thus far, winning this competition and bringing this energy to bear.
Let's commit ourselves today to go forward in this partnership, to do even more -do even faster, do even better - then we've done already. You'll take the first step, and we will be there with you every step of the way. Thank you for having me.
Content Archived: January 20, 2009