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Remarks by Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor: "Strong Cities, Strong Communities" Rollout

Location: New Orleans, LA

Thank you, Mayor Landrieu, for that introduction and for your incredible leadership. As Labor Secretary, I get the opportunity to travel to cities all across this great nation.

One thing I can say with certainty it this: There's no more resilient place on Earth than New Orleans, Louisiana. The triple blow of Hurricane Katrina, the Great Recession and the worst oil spill in American history would've brought almost any city to its knees. But not New Orleans.

I tell my colleagues in Washington that if you really want to understand New Orleans -- and the unique soul of this city -- then you need to clear your schedule, get on a plane and come down here and see for yourself why this is the city where the music never stops.

This is my third trip to New Orleans this year. I was here just 10 days ago to outline my commitment to protect vulnerable and exploited workers.

The scenes and stories left me inspired: neighbors helping neighbors, workers fighting to recover lost jobs, residents patrolling their local communities, entrepreneurs creating new industries out of whole cloth, and local officials working through the night to make this city whole again.

Today, I am proud to return on behalf of President Obama to make a major announcement. New Orleans has been chosen as one of six cities across the country to take part in an exciting new pilot program called "Strong Cities, Strong Communities."

New Orleans was selected because Mayor Landrieu's visionary plan to rebuild this city can be a national model of economic growth.

I've heard the Mayor call New Orleans a "laboratory for innovation." We're here today to give your lab the tools it needs. We're here to join the experiment. And from my meetings with the Mayor, I know we already have great chemistry.

In recent years, the federal government has committed significant resources to help New Orleans respond to both natural and man-made disasters. But we understand that sending checks and issuing mandates from federal buildings 1,000 miles away is not the way to rebuild New Orleans. There's a better way. And that's to be here right by your side to support your critical work.

We're relocating senior-level officials from four cabinet-level agencies to come live here in New Orleans full-time and work with you. Four other federal agencies will send officials to work here part-time. We call them your Community Solutions Team. They will be the mayor's partners here on the ground.

Their job will be to cut through the red tape of Washington and get the city the expertise and assistance you need across a range of projects.

The HUD team member will help implement a neighborhood redevelopment plan.

The HHS team member will help coordinate services to address mental health, early childhood development and other human services.

The Justice Department team member will help devise strategies to reduce crime and violence.

And the Labor Department team member will help match workforce development systems with the needs of local employers.

We know New Orleans already has world-class medical schools. This makes the construction of the new VA hospital all the more exciting. We will bring our expertise to bear on ways to match up K-12 and post-secondary education with the needs of the medical corridor and BioDistrict.

Other team members will focus their strategic planning around:

* Export strategies and the Port of New Orleans
* Emerging opportunities for local entrepreneurs
* And education and workforce training programs

But that's just part of what "Strong Cities, Strong Communities" offers. There are three other components:

The first is a fellowship program. We will work with philanthropic partners to train and place up to five mid-level professionals in your local government Our goal is to pick fellows who want to make New Orleans their permanent home and commit themselves to solving the city's challenges.

The second is a national resource network. This will serve as a "one-stop shop" for technical assistance for local governments. We will assemble national experts with wide-ranging skills and expertise that cities can draw upon. These experts will offer both pro bono and paid services. So if a city needs job market analysis, or advice on repurposing land use, they can tap this resource network

The third is an economic planning challenge. This will be available to other cities that don't yet have a winning economic blueprint like New Orleans. They will have the chance to participate in a national grant competition to enlist top experts to help them devise a plan for success.

"Strong Cities, Strong Communities" is about supporting communities from the bottom up -- not the top down. This initiative is different from most government programs that dole out grants and then monitor compliance with complicated regulations. Instead, we will provide human capital to help New Orleans achieve its own vision. We won't try to determine the vision for you.

We've never done a program like this before. But we are excited about its potential.

It's time to move away from "business as usual" in Washington. It's time to move the government out of its silos where one agency doesn't talk to another agency. In short, it's time to put some of our best people on the ground to cooperate, starting right here in New Orleans.

Let me be clear: We understand that rebuilding "The Big Easy" will be anything but.

But if we work together, when New Orleans celebrates its 300th birthday in 2018, we will mark a true rebirth of this world-class city.

This administration looks forward to helping build a "new" New Orleans that will make all of America proud. Thank you.

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