I attended a number of presentations yesterday at the National League of Cities’ Congress of Cities and Exposition here in Boston, including one on 2012 city fiscal conditions. The overall outlook was bleak as cities are still suffering from lower revenue and depletion of reserves which are resulting in a continued need to lower costs. Many cities are suspending infrastructure investment, laying off workers and cutting services in order to make ends meet.
As I learned during the discussion, sometimes all these efforts are not enough. The NLC cited cities that were on the brink of bankruptcy, cities in more than $100 million in debt, and cities laying off hundreds of staff including police and firefighters. One example shared was one town in New Jersey that was forced to lay off most of its police force despite serious crime in its neighborhoods.
In times like these, cities need all the external support they can get to address issues in their communities. I know that when it comes to our industry, we are making efforts to do our part. Our national consumer choice website at www.YellowPagesOptOut.com provides cities with a free solution to address unwanted phone directories by residents. Our industry – rather than governments and taxpayers – picks up the tab for this offering, because it’s the right thing to do. We also partner with local officials to get the word out to their constituents about this resource.
I was also interested to learn that the NLC recently took over the Sustainable Cities Institute (SCI). This program will become the main platform for NLC to support sustainability efforts of its member cities. It is an online platform to assist cities with identifying, planning for and implementing sustainability initiatives. I plan to explore how our industry might work with the SCI to incorporate our consumer choice website into its toolbox of solutions for cities.
Neg Norton and I continued to make many contacts with local officials from Georgia, Idaho, Missouri and Arizona through various events at the conference. In particular, I continued to have a good time getting to know Asian American city officials such as San Jose, California councilmember Kansen Chu. We bantered with other local officials from California, testing one another’s proficiency in Cantonese (my home dialect) and Mandarin. I was also approached by Mayor Conrad Lee of Bellevue, Washington, who asked that we reconnect after the conference.
Yellowbook’s Matt Krug, YP’s Jim Troup and Dex One’s Tim Foster said a significant number of local officials stopped by our industry’s exhibition booth. The consensus among many of the leaders they spoke with was that print directories were by and large not viewed as a significant issue in their communities. In fact, some city officials who stopped by were small business owners who either advertised in the Yellow Pages or who understood the value of the phone directories in driving new business.
Stay tuned for more updates from the NLC conference!