Seattle 2000 Press Releases
For Immediate Release
June 12, 2000

Contact: Tony Iallonardo
Phone (202) 293-7330

Mayors Vow to Increase Efforts to Reduce Skills Gap, Strengthen Links to Private Sector

Seattle, WA —At the 68th Annual Conference of Mayors today, Mayors and private sector officials agreed that while significant untapped economic opportunities exist in their communities, they simultaneously face serious shortages of qualified workers in their cities. These subjects were discussed during the Mayors and Mayors' Business Council Plenary Breakfast.

The participants, including Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci, Jr., Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles, Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill, New Orleans Mayor Marc H. Morial, and Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown focused their remarks on a survey compiled by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and repeatedly stated their commitment to form cooperative efforts with the private sector to reduce the skills gap.

Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill, who chairs the Conference's Jobs, Education, and the Workforce Standing Committee summed the up the challenge, saying in her remarks, "If Mayors can't train workers, they can't succeed in attracting businesses and jobs."

The report contains the results of surveys of Mayors and other city officials conducted in 1999 and included 174 cities, found 81 percent of the city leaders agreeing or strongly agreeing that significant untapped economic potential exists in their neighborhoods.

The second survey, which included 110 cities, found four in five cities reporting shortages of both highly skilled and skilled workers, and 42 percent reporting a shortage of unskilled workers. More than three in four cities said these shortages had increased over the past five years, and large majorities of cities characterized the shortages as either serious or very serious. Fifty-eight percent of the cities facing a shortage of highly-skilled workers said the shortage was affecting their ability to attract new businesses; 56 percent of those with skilled-worker shortages reported this situation, as did 46 percent of those with unskilled worker shortages. These shortages also are affecting the cities' ability to retain existing businesses and support the expansion of existing businesses, according to the officials surveyed.

Of these findings, Mayor O'Neill said, "This survey dramatically points to the need for stronger workforce training. Both Mayors and business leaders have indicated there is a growing gap between skilled and unskilled workers. Unless we address this, we as a country will not dominate the economy of the 21st century."

Asked which sectors of their economy were most seriously affected by the shortage of qualified workers, city leaders most frequently cited technology (61 percent of respondents), manufacturing (48 percent), health (34 percent), and construction (27 percent).

Cities' efforts to develop the skills needed by employers usually include partnerships formed with a variety of local institutions, according to the survey. More than nine in 10 cities have partnerships and programs involving area colleges and universities and public post-secondary institutions. High percentages of cities also involve businesses and public elementary and secondary schools. While 89 percent of the cities say that, as a group, their education and training institutions hold the potential to develop the full range of skills needed by area employers, they are about evenly divided on the question of whether this potential can be realized with existing public and private resources.

Most of the officials also reported that their cities are receiving state and federal funding for specific initiatives to reduce the shortages of qualified workers, but well over half say these initiatives are not on a scale that makes a significant contribution to reducing the shortages. Officials were evenly divided on the question of whether funding they received from the U.S. Department of Labor for welfare-to-work efforts was adequate to meet current needs in their cities.

Much of the survey focused on local, state and federal efforts to expand opportunities for low income workers and their families. Given the fact that remaining welfare caseloads are disproportionately located in cities, officials were asked whether their state's efforts to move people from welfare to work were being targeted to cities in general, and their city specifically. Sixty-nine percent said the cities in their state were being targeted, and 64 percent felt their city was being targeted.

Most officials reported that the range of support services needed by welfare recipients to move into jobs was available in their cities, but fewer B in some cases, far fewer B felt these supports were adequate. Seventy-two percent of the officials, for example, said their basic skills training was adequate, but only 27 percent felt their child care services were adequate, and just 30 percent said their transportation services were adequate.

The officials surveyed estimated that, on average, 47 percent of the low income workers in their cities have access to either employer or government health care coverage, and that 37 percent have access to child care services from any source.

Copies of the report, "Seizing Economic Opportunities in a New Millennium: How Cities Assess Untapped Markets, Worker Shortages and Other Challenges," are available from the Conference of Mayors, Office of Public Affairs, at (202) 293-7330.

At press may:

  • Access full and updated drafts of the conference agenda
  • Pre-register online
  • View updated listings of pre-registered mayors
  • Link to media advisories publicizing conference events

All press must register to gain access to conference events. Registrations will be accepted at the Conference press office, the Juniper Room, on-site at the Seattle Sheraton Hotel. Press credentials must be presented. The press room telephone number is (202) 293-7330. The Sheraton's general telephone number is (206) 621-9000, and the Conference's Washington, DC office can be reached at (202) 293-7330.

The U. S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are about 1,100 such cities in the country today. Each city is represented in the Conference by its chief elected official, the mayor.