Press Release

September 23, 1999

Jubi Headley
Director, Public Affairs
(202) 861-6766
(877) 540-0338 pager

Mayors' National Surveys Show Broad Agreement on Presence of Untapped Markets, Challenges Across Regions, Shortages of Qualified Workers

Local government leaders across the nation are overwhelmingly agree that while significant untapped economic opportunities exist in their communities, they simultaneously face serious shortages of qualified workers in their cities, according to a report released today in Denver by The U.S. Conference of Mayors. The report release occurs while officials of the national organization of Mayors and cities are in Denver September 23-25 for a Business Leadership Summit and their annual Summer Leadership Meeting.

The report contains the results of two surveys of Mayors and other city officials conducted within the past few months. The first survey, which included 174 cities, found 81 percent of the city leaders agreeing or strongly agreeing that significant untapped economic potential exists in their neighborhoods. In addition:

  • 77 percent agreed or strongly agreed that consumers would make more retail purchases in their communities if more retail outlets were found near their homes,

  • 86 percent agreed or strongly agreed that land for new or expanded retail or other commercial development is available in their communities, and

  • 57 percent agreed or strongly agreed that a significant workforce of unemployed or underemployed persons is available in their communities.

Asked to gauge the seriousness of the challenges most often encountered in their cities, mayors most frequently cited training the workforce to stay competitive in a changing economy (90 percent of survey respondents), cutting traffic congestion (86 percent), reducing crime and associated problems (83 percent), meeting the need for infrastructure (82 percent), and protecting the environment as the community grows (also 82 percent).

Assessing the growth of major challenges over the past 10 years, the largest group of city officials (72 percent) cited increases in the challenge posed by training the workforce to stay competitive, and by cutting traffic congestion. Relatively small percentages of officials saw decreases in challenges over the same period. Nearly all saw the challenges, any or all of them, as regional in scope.

There was nearly universal agreement among the officials with a set of eight statements describing various aspects of regional cooperation. For example, 97 percent agreed or strongly agreed that "the long-term health and vitality of our region depends on greater cooperation among cities and suburbs, that "business leadership is important to building more city-suburb cooperation in our region," and that "my city's long-term interests are tied to the future of the surrounding region."

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.

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 B How Cities Assess Untapped Markets, Worker Shortages and Other Challenges, are available from the Conference of Mayors, Office of Public Affairs, at (202) 861-6736, or on the Conference of Mayors web site.