Bernero stresses economic highlights in State of the City address

Lansing, MI – Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero struck an upbeat tone in his seventh State of the City Address Monday night. Bernero came armed with an array of positive statistics about rising housing markets and relatively low unemployment. But the mayor also recognized some difficult decisions ahead in 2012.

From the moment he took the podium, Virg Bernero radiated an energy that felt more like a revival than rhetoric. And there was no better forum for the mayor's words: the shuttered power plant turned headquarters of the Accident Fund Insurance Company. Here was Bernero preaching the gospel of recovery in the city's gleaming corporate cathedral.

Before he outlined the specifics of the past year, Bernero had some breaking news. A new report from the Urban Institute ranks the Lansing-East Lansing metro area first in the nation in three growth categories.

"You heard me right, folks...number one in the country! Believe it!" Bernero said. "Number one in the nation, Lansing, Michigan; for growth, not only in manufacturing but also in the transportation and utilities sectors."

Bernero spoke of Lansing's rising housing market and a handful of projects in the works, including the restoration of the former Knapp's department store. And he crowed over General Motors' regained market share, and the prospect of the new Cadillac ATS to be built in Lansing later this year.

"You know, some called me the angry mayor' a few years ago when I was fighting to save GM," he said. "But I am one happy and proud mayor tonight: happy with the health of GM and proud of our dedicated and productive workers who have put us back on the map."

Flanked by rows of windows high above Lansing's glittering evening vista, Bernero praised the transformation of the former Ottawa Street Power Station into the new home of the Accident Fund. He noted that from atop the ninth floor, one could see into East Lansing and Lansing Township. It was a metaphor for cooperation beyond the city limits.

"Seeing the whole picture, not just the individual parts, must be the basis for our understanding of regionalism," Bernero explained. "We know that a strong region starts with a strong and healthy core city and we're making that happen. But we're also making great strides in breaking down the barriers of turf and parochial concerns and outdated thinking that must be cleared away if we have any hope to become one of the great regions in America."

The mayor cited a major agreement between the city and DeWitt Township to create a so-called "aerotropolis" to facilitate international trade at the Capital Region International Airport. Bernero also stressed the need for joint public safety initiatives, which he named as his top priority.

Bernero didn't flinch from some tough realities. He spoke of waste and duplication in public services and new rules governing state revenue sharing that will force consolidation. Bernero raised the specter of cities like Flint and Benton Harbor, whose economic travails have prompted the installation of emergency managers.

"Whether we like it or not, city government must do less with less," Bernero proclaimed. "We must fit the operations of city services within the money we have to spend on it. We have no choice but to live within our means. And live within our means we will."

Bernero finished as strong as he started. He concluded with the notion of the city "jumping hurdles," "picking up the pace" and "dreaming big dreams" when others are scaling their visions back.

Lansing city council president Brian Jeffries was happy to hear Bernero's pitch for regionalism. Bernero will need Jeffries' support and that of the entire council to execute his vision for 2012. Jeffries believes the tone will be positive.

"And I think what we've learned is we have to have an understanding that we come to the table and in a very good faith, professional way, we deal with those issues," Jeffries said. "And I think that as the mayor is very hopeful about 2012, so am I."

While ever optimistic, Bernero faces some hurdles ahead. He's pushing a proposed $245 million casino that's already running into legal roadblocks. And in March, he'll present his budget to the city council; a budget that by law must be balanced. It seems Mayor Bernero realizes growth doesn't come without a little stretching.