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In annual address, mayor sees Memphis on the move

We asked a few Chamber members who we knew would attend or be tuned into Mayor Wharton’s State of the City speech to give us their thoughts. Below are responses we’ve received. The full transcript of the mayor’s speech is below.

Have comments you’d like to share here? Email Christina Meek, leave a comment below, or respond via Twitter or Facebook.

Lee Still, Senior Vice President of Trust One Bank:
“I am more optimistic about the future in Memphis than ever. Mayor Wharton and his team have taken the city to a new level and created a tidal wave of momentum. Memphis is rich with talented small business people who are not afraid to give back. I'm excited to see that the mayor is leveraging those talents in our community to take this city to heights unknown. I am proud to be a part of this community.”

Nisha Powers, Memphis architect:
“I'm a Memphian by choice and excited about the things that are happening under Mayor Wharton's leadership.”

Jim Van de Vuurst, principal at Vanick Group, a Memphis-based information technology provider:
“Mayor Wharton and his team are on a roll! We have seen tangible proof that the mayor is committed to investing in the Memphis community. A healthier Memphis economy will create growth and job opportunities as well as help with education and crime prevention initiatives already underway. I am particularly impressed that this administration is reaching out to community leaders throughout the state, and even the entire country, for fresh ideas to make our city better. This team effort is what will help move us forward.”

John Moore, Chairman and CEO for Greater Memphis Chamber:

“I think the mayor hit on all the important points. The focus the city has on all these issues is inspirational.”

Debbie Crawford, Sales and Marketing Director for Pugh’s Flowers:
“As a lifelong Memphian who works for a locally owned and operated company, Pugh's Flowers, I am very happy to see that the mayor is aware and tuned into the passion and conviction of Memphians and is encouraging input from the citizens of Memphis. There is an optimism about our city that hasn't been here for a long time, and Mayor Wharton leads this vibrant and creative city with a positive voice. Even though we face many challenges, it is truly great to hear our leader say "together we will cross this bridge.”

Below are the prepared remarks for Mayor A C Wharton’s State of the City address, delivered on Thursday, February 27 at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. Later today on the M blog, we’ll have reaction from Chamber members, and video of the mayor’s speech in its entirety.


I was proud to celebrate the groundbreaking of new LeBonheur. I am grateful to be here today in the jewel of our medical district.

We did not set out to raise one hundred million dollars to build this new hospital in the middle of a recession because we thought it would be easy or quick. We did it because when Memphis sees a need, we rise to the challenge.

Whenever we are challenged by illness, flood, violence, or poverty, Memphians pull together… and we overcome.

In the past few weeks, we launched a new plan to dramatically reduce homelessness within the next fifteen years. In the months ahead, in partnership with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office and the Social Innovation Fund, we will launch new programs focusing on workforce development, financial literacy, and healthcare.

As always, I remain open and eager to hear your ideas on how to make Memphis better. Last week, we launched “give a Minute for Memphis,” where we ask people to tell us what skills you would like to develop and put to work. If you have a dream or an idea, I want you to post it at “” or text it to 901-296-0123 today.

Success is everywhere:

In South Memphis: Riviana Foods and Cargill have both agreed to stay and invest in our city. Electrolux is going to bring thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs to our people.

In Hickory Hill, the Marina Cove apartment complex had become a monument of blight covering several city blocks. Not only did the city of Memphis demolish the buildings that comprised this development, but we gave a non-profit organization, the Power Center, the tools to implement a real plan for this area’s rebirth.

In the center of our city, we completed Tiger Lane on time and on budget with fifty-four percent minority and woman-owned businesses participation from great local companies like Overton Electric and Cotton Concrete.

In Bearwater – that’s North Memphis to the uninitiated –we broke ground on a new residential housing development. Just south of Downtown, we celebrated the approval of our latest Hope VI application to redevelop Cleaborne Homes… the last old public housing project in the city.

In Raleigh, Westwood, and Whitehaven, crime is down. Ask business owner Hazel Moore and she’ll tell you: Our streets feel safer because they are safer.

In Orange Mound, New Chicago and Frayser, we are suing neglectful property owners whose decaying houses and overgrown lots are ruining our neighborhoods.

My thanks go to great people in great communities like Lynda Whalen and Steve Lockwood for being our eyes out in the community.

We transformed a troubled summer jobs program into a successful, yearlong enrichment program with young people from every corner of our city. They are doing real work and getting paid on time … their parents tell me every time I see them!

Later this afternoon, I’m hosting a roundtable discussion with Governor Haslam to discuss a statewide plan for community development… one of many ways I’m partnering with our new governor to benefit the people of Memphis.

In our nation’s capital, when they look to a city that knows how to leverage local and federal resources to create great housing, jobs, and opportunities…. they come to Memphis.

In New York City, when they think of a city that is legendary for its vibrancy and creativity… they sing about Memphis.

In Paris, when they want to learn from an American city that is a global center of commerce and logistics… they look to Memphis.

Our city is more essential to the culture and economy of our world than ever. This is the state of our city as we meet 2011.

You can see it. You can feel it. We are a city on the mend and on the move.

Last year, Memphis had the fewest homicides in over thirty years. Operation Safe Community is working.

Because of the bravery and hard work for the Memphis Police Department… and with the partnership of the sheriff’s office - the district attorney general’s office - the University of Memphis - and the Memphis/Shelby County Crime Commission… violent crime in our city has dropped to historic lows.

We are winning the war on crime… yet many battles remain. Any time a life is lost to violence in our city, it is an unacceptable tragedy. every day in every neighborhood, victims of domestic violence are still suffering. this is the next front in the war against crime. we will not relent.

I am also pleased to announce that in April, Memphis will join five other cities in a special youth violence prevention initiative, sponsored by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education. We cannot allow more of young lives to slip into the oblivion of violent crime… either as victims or as perpetrators.

My position regarding our school today is the same as it has been for weeks: The people of Memphis must have their say in their children’s future... and when early voting starts on February 16, you must make your voice heard.

I know that right now there are more questions than answers. But this vote for our children’s future is too important. These are the moments that rewrite this city’s history.
The future is waiting for our children. I am dedicated to making sure that their bright future is filled with good jobs.

My thanks to the Memphis City Council… Mayor Luttrell and the Shelby County Commission… the governor’s office and the state of Tennessee… the Greater Memphis Chamber… and many others for their work on the Electrolux project. What a terrific achievement for our city!

As excited as we are about Electrolux, we should be just as excited as the great companies that will follow them.

Our new “Economic Development and Growth Engine” will get rid of the bureaucracy and divergent agendas that have crippled job growth here for so long.

This will be one of the easiest places in the country to start, expand, or relocate a business.

We must provide more and better assistance to small businesses and entrepreneurs in our core city neighborhoods…

And we must invest strongly in our core assets – rail, runway, river, and road, as well in our people and our colleges as the keys to unlock our economy’s potential.

The national economy is slowly rebounding. But the fiscal houses of local governments are still not in order.

The City Council and I must work together to find new ways of doing more with less. Some have compared my administration to building a plane while we’re already in the air. I think we’re building a bridge while we’re already crossing the raging river.

The painful lessons are being learned all around the country. State and local governments are going completely bankrupt. Longtime public servants are losing their pensions... police departments and fire departments are being gutted… schools and libraries are being shuttered… streets and sidewalks are crumbling to dust.

It doesn’t have to be that way in Memphis, Tennessee. But we’ve got to have a plan.

Over the last six months, I’ve asked community leaders, business leaders, labor officials, and city council members to help me identify specific areas where your government can behave more efficiently and stop needless spending. Their plan will be released to the public within two weeks.

Some of these ideas will be familiar and overdue for implementation. Some of them will be unorthodox. All of them deserve our careful consideration.

These recommendations follow a very challenging year where we made serious cuts to every division and office of city government. Had it not been for our contribution to the city schools last year, we would have had a twenty million dollar surplus in our budget for 2010!

I don’t want to raise taxes or close community centers any more than the rest of you. But we’re all going to have share in the pain of fixing the problem. We’re going to share in the pain if we don’t.

Education. Economy. Community. Crime. Taxes. Each one plays a huge role in defining the state of our city. You can’t affect one part without impacting the whole.

The state of our city is strong and growing stronger. The challenges we face have never been so complex and so urgent… but Memphis is meeting these challenges with a passion and a conviction that we’ve never had before.

But I can’t help but be inspired by what I see happening in Memphis today:

Take Bennie Nelson west for example: A graduate of the Tuskegee University, Ms. West developed a passion for the performing arts in New York City in the sixties and seventies. When she returned to Memphis, she found that creative opportunities for children of color were sadly lacking. She formed the black Arts Alliance in 1982. A decade later, she renovated a firehouse in South Memphis to give children a place to express themselves through dance, acting, and writing. Bennie has helped hundreds of young people over the years, filling a void in the soul of our city with love and creativity.

Or take Johnny Pitts for example: Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Johnny is a family man, an Eagle Scout, and a successful local businessman. He gives generously of his time and money to the Boy Scouts and numerous other worthy causes. He has sponsored media campaigns that encourage all of us to spend our money locally on goods and services whenever possible. Entrepreneurs and small businesses throughout this city owe Johnny a debt of gratitude! I personally owe him a debt of gratitude for the assistance he has offered my administration, as a customer service consultant and for his work to eliminate waste and make real cost-saving reforms in our Human Resources Division.

Or take Deandre Brown: When he was released from prison in 2005, he couldn’t find work. He and his wife began a janitorial services company and, for two years, the company held a contract at a local hospital … until the hospital found out he was an ex-offender. The contract was canceled. The couple eventually lost their home, but they didn’t lose their hope.
Instead, he started “lifeline to success,” a twelve-week program to give ex-offenders the tools they need to re-enter society, from life skills to job readiness and volunteerism. Deandre saw a need, and he stepped forward to fill it.

I could name thousands more like these. My point is that Memphians don’t just dare to dream. We dare to act. We have faith in the value of our ideas and our capacity for work. We have changed the world too many times to believe otherwise.

Our greatness as a country has always been in our willingness to take on the hard cases and offer refuge, comfort, and a “way up” to those in greatest need.

So it is with our great city. Our light shines brighter than ever, beating back the darkness and calling us home. To Memphians everywhere, today I say: Your city is here for you.

There is a young man in Memphis who has drifted into a life of crime. We can be as cold as steel in standing against him. We will not tolerate those who seek to hurt us, vandalize us, or rob us. But when that man decides to change his life, he will see our cold resistance melt. We will be here for him, with all the resources of our Second Chance Program and the county’s Prisoner Reentry Program to give him the training, motivation, and hope that he’ll need to succeed. To him I say: Your city is here for you.

There’s a man downtown who’s been sleeping on the streets, using the local trash bin as his food pantry and yesterday’s newspaper as a pillow. We are throwing out the lifeline for this drifting soul. To him I say: Your city is here for you.

There is a young mother in our city whose eyes are burning because she’s been up all night waiting on her 15-year-old, 200-pound unruly child to come into the house. To her I say: Your city is here for you. We can give her help she needs to get her son on the straight and narrow before it’s too late for him.

There is a father trying to provide for his family, but he’s working in the fear that his job will disappear. He’s afraid he doesn’t have the skills or time to find something else. To him I say: Your city is here for you.

We will not only bring in great new employers, we will work hard to keep the ones we already have. We will give our workforce all the education and training they need to compete anywhere.

There is a grandmother who is raising her grandchild by herself. That child shouldn’t have to choose between valuable extracurricular activities and making money to help cover some expenses. To her I say: Your city is here for you. Our Youth Ambassadors Program will let that young lady to learn, be enriched, and be fairly compensated all year long.

There is a college student in Memphis getting ready to graduate. He wants to stay here if he can find a way how. He loves the city, but he’s tired of hearing what we are not and wants to learn more about what we are. To him I say: Your city is here for you. Our office of talent and human capital is tapping into the brilliance of our city and engaging great and compassionate minds to shape the future.

Our city’s greatness will not be measured in our tourism dollars… or the tons of the cargo passing through our airport… or even the acclaim for our culture. Our greatness will be measured in the quality of our jobs… in the safety of our people… in the beauty of our streets… in the vibrancy of our neighborhoods… and how we work with the least among us so that they can work for themselves.

What lies ahead will not be easy or quick. But what we meet along will bring forth the best in each of us.

Last year, I asked you to stop being bemoaners and start being believers. Today, your belief in our city is taking us to new heights. together, we will cross the bridge. Together, we can see what lies on far shore of our city’s promise and potential.

God bless you. And may God bless the city of Memphis.

Posted: 1/26/2011 9:31:37 PM | with 0 comments
Filed under: a, address, c, Chamber, city, government, mayor, Memphis, wharton

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The latest news from the Greater Memphis Chamber. For more information, contact Director of Communications Christina Meek at (901) 543-3504 ( or Communications Specialist Jenny C. Fish at (901) 543-3558 (