USCM
A Report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors

  • Full Report
  • Return to Press Release
  • Return to USCM Home
  • Seizing Economic Opportunities
    in the New Millennium

    How Cities Assess Untapped Markets, Skill Shortages and Other Challenges

    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

    This report documents the results of two surveys of the nation's principal cities conducted in 1999. The objectives of these surveys were to help determine, first, how mayors and other city leaders, on behalf of their citizens, can take advantage of the many opportunities presented by the nation's strong economy and, second, how these leaders can maximize their contributions to the economic expansion of their cities, their regions, and the nation in the new millennium.

    Survey on Untapped Markets, Regional Challenges and Cooperation

    The first survey, conducted in May and June, asked mayors to share their experience and observations on 1) the existence of untapped retail, land and labor markets in their communities; 2) the challenges currently facing cities and regions; 3) metropolitan growth issues; and 4) opportunities for regional cooperation. Responses were received from 174 cities.

    Untapped Markets

    A large majority of the city officials responding to the survey indicated that untapped markets exist in their communities.

    • In 81 percent of the cities, officials agreed or strongly agreed that their neighborhoods have significant untapped economic potential.
    • In 77 percent of the cities, officials agreed or strongly agreed that consumers would make more retail purchases in their communities if there were more retail outlets near their homes.
    • In 86 percent of the cities, officials agreed or strongly agreed that land for new or expanded retail or other commercial development is available.
    • In 57 percent of the cities, officials agreed or strongly agreed that a significant workforce of unemployed or underemployed persons is available.

    Challenges in the Community and the Region

    Presented with a list of challenges often encountered in cities and asked to gauge the seriousness of those challenges in their cities, the officials most frequently saw either major or minor challenges in:

    • training the workforce to stay competitive in a changing economy — 90 percent of respondents;
    • cutting traffic congestion on roads and highways — 86 percent;
    • reducing crime and its associated problems — 83 percent;
    • meeting the need for infrastructure — 82 percent; and
    • protecting the environment as the community grows — also 82 percent.

    The largest numbers of city officials saw major challenges in:

    • meeting the need for infrastructure — 57 percent of respondents;
    • cutting traffic congestion on roads and highways — 52 percent;
    • training the workforce to stay competitive in a changing economy — 51 percent;

    • limiting the negative effects of sprawl on the community — 47 percent; and
    • protecting the environment as the community grows — 40 percent.

    Asked whether the challenges in the nine categories had increased, decreased or stayed the same over the past 10 years, most city officials reported increases in the challenges relating to:

    • training the workforce to stay competitive — 72 percent of respondents;
    • cutting traffic congestion — also 72 percent;
    • meeting the need for infrastructure — 66 percent;
    • limiting the negative effects of sprawl — 54 percent; and
    • protecting the environment — 52 percent.

    Relatively small percentages of officials reported decreases in the challenges posed in any of the categories. The largest group — 25 percent of the officials — reported that the challenge of reducing crime and its associated problems had decreased. The next largest group — 18 percent — included officials who said the challenge of avoiding overcrowding of schools had decreased.

    Nearly all of the officials — 97 percent — saw these challenges as regional in scope.

    Other major challenges identified by officials, beyond those listed in the survey, started with transportation needs. The next most frequently-cited challenge was the need to develop and preserve affordable housing. The list also contained the need to improve education, redevelop brownfields, create jobs, and revitalize business and downtown areas.

    Metropolitan Growth

    There was strong — in many instances, almost total — agreement among officials on a set of eight statements describing keys to managing growth and controlling sprawl in metropolitan areas. For example, officials in 98 percent of the cities agreed that "It is a prudent strategy for the nation to redevelop brownfields as an alternative to developing previously undeveloped greenfields." Officials in 96 percent of the cities said "My City supports policies that encourage the redevelopment of core cities in our region," and 96 percent agreed that "Expanding housing and homeownership opportunities in the urban core of our region would benefit the entire nation."

    Regional Cooperation

    There also was nearly universal agreement among officials with a set of eight statements describing various aspects of regional cooperation. For example, 97 percent of the city officials agreed or strongly agreed with the following:

    • "The long-term health and vitality of our region depends on greater cooperation among cities and suburbs.

    • "Business leadership is important to building more city-suburb cooperation in our region.

    • "There should be more city-suburb and central city-county cooperation.

    • "My City's long-term interests are tied to the future of the surrounding region.

    In an open-ended question, officials were asked to identify the top three program or issue areas in which more city-suburb cooperation is needed in their region over the next few years. By far, the most frequently-identified area was transportation, including mass transit, roads and highways, and alleviating traffic congestion; officials in 94 cities cited this. The next most frequently-identified areas were economic development and affordable housing.

    Survey on Shortages of Qualified Workers

    Because maintaining a competitive workforce emerged in the first survey as a serious and growing challenge for the largest groups of mayors responding, a second survey, conducted in August and September, asked mayors to focus on the challenges they face in workforce development. This survey addressed 1) the extent to which shortages of qualified workers are affecting cities, 2) the sectors of city economies which are being affected, 3) the cities' responses to the problem, 4) the extent to which state and federal governments are contributing to solutions, and 5) what is being done to help low income people — welfare recipients, in particular — enter and succeed in the workforce. Responses were received from 110 cities.

    Shortages by Skill Level and Sector

    Officials in four in five of the survey cities reported a shortage of highly-skilled workers, and more than three-fourths (77 percent) of these said that this shortage had increased over the past five years. Eighty-seven percent characterized the shortage as either serious or very serious.

    Across the cities reporting shortages at the highly-skilled level:

    • 58 percent said this was affecting their ability to attract new businesses.
    • 39 percent said this was affecting their ability to retain existing businesses.
    • 62 percent said this was affecting their ability to support expansion of existing businesses.

    Officials in four in five of the survey cities reported a shortage of skilled workers, and 86 percent of these officials said that this shortage had increased over the past five years. Eighty-six percent also characterized the shortage as either serious or very serious.

    Across the cities reporting shortages at the skilled level:

    • 56 percent said this was affecting their ability to attract new businesses.
    • 44 percent said this was affecting their ability to retain existing businesses.
    • 63 percent said this was affecting their ability to support expansion of existing businesses.

    In 42 percent of the survey cities, officials said they face a shortage of low-skilled or unskilled workers, just over three-fourths of them said this shortage had increased over the past five years, and just over three-fourths characterized the shortage as serious or very serious.

    Across the cities reporting shortages at the low-skill level:

    • 46 percent said this was affecting their ability to attract new businesses.
    • 34 percent said this was affecting their ability to retain existing businesses.
    • 57 percent said this was affecting their ability to support expansion of existing businesses.

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

    City Responses to Shortages

    The survey cities indicated that their efforts to develop the skills needed by employers usually include partnerships involving, or programs conducted by, various local institutions.

    • 94 percent of the cities involve area colleges and universities.
    • 93 percent involve public post-secondary institutions.
    • 85 percent involve businesses.
    • 77 percent involve public elementary and secondary schools.
    • 91 percent involve other institutions.

    Eighty-nine percent of the officials indicated that, as a group, the education and training institutions and organizations in their cities held the potential to develop the full range of skills needed by area employers. These officials were about evenly divided, however, on the question of whether this potential can be realized with existing public and private resources.

    One-fourth of the cities reported that most efforts to develop the skills needed by area employers are being approached at a regional level; another 53 percent said that while most of their efforts are regional, greater effort is needed.

    In just over two-thirds of the survey cities (69 percent), state governments are funding specific initiatives to reduce shortages of qualified workers; however, officials in more than half (53 percent) said that these initiatives are not on a scale sufficient to make a significant contribution to reducing the shortages. In 58 percent of the cities, the federal government is funding specific initiatives to reduce the shortages, but officials in 59 percent of these cities said that these initiatives are not on a scale sufficient to have a significant impact.

    Officials were divided on whether other state and federal funds received by their cities — both block grants and discretionary awards — offered the flexibility to apply them to the reduction of worker shortages.

    • Regarding state funds, 40 percent said they did, 60 percent said they did not.
    • Regarding federal funds, 47 percent said they did, 53 percent said they did not.

    Expanding Opportunities for Low Income Workers and Their Families

    Thirty-one percent of the city officials reported that their state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program was taking advantage of the flexibility it has been given to help move recipients from welfare to work; another 62 percent said that while TANF was taking advantage of this flexibility, more could be done.

    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 or their city specifically.

    • 69 percent said cities in general were being targeted.
    • 64 percent said their city was being targeted.

    Officials were evenly divided on the question of whether funding they received from the Department of Labor for welfare-to-work efforts was adequate to meet current needs in their cities.

    Asked to assess the availability and adequacy of a range of supports which welfare recipients need to move into the job market and succeed on the job, most officials indicated that the supports were available in their cities, but fewer — in some cases, far fewer — felt these supports were adequate. For example, 72 percent of the officials said their basic skills training was adequate, but only 27 percent felt their child care was adequate, and 30 percent said their transportation was adequate.

    In their assessment of the health care coverage available to low income workers:

    • Nearly three-fourths of the survey cities said that most low income workers do not have access to affordable coverage through their employers.
    • 78 percent of the cities reported that, of those who do not have access to coverage through employers, most receive health care through government programs such as Medicaid.
    • Officials estimated that, on average, 47 percent of the low income workers in their cities have access to employer or government health care coverage.
    • 42 percent of the cities said that the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is effectively bridging the health care gap for the children of low income workers who do not have health care coverage; 58 percent said it is not.
    • 10 percent of the cities felt that their state is taking advantage of the flexibility and outreach funding available through CHIP to reach these children; another 72 percent said that, while their state was doing this, more could be done.

    In their assessment of child care:

    • Nearly nine in 10 of the survey cities said that most low income working families do not have access to affordable, quality child care through their employers.
    • Nearly three in five of the cities said that most of these families do not have access to affordable, quality child care through government programs.
    • Officials estimated that, on average, 37 percent of low income working families in their cities have access to such child care from any source.
    • 38 percent of the cities reported that most families lose child care assistance when they move from welfare to work; 62 percent said they do not.
    • Just over half the cities said that most families have to change child care providers when they move from welfare to work.

    Officials in 16 percent of the cities believe that their state is taking advantage of the flexibility available through the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant to meet the child care needs of low income working families; another 61 percent said that, while their state was doing this, more could be done.