GEORGETOWN — In the city that serves as home to Toyota's largest North American plant, the carmaker's team members are not just employees and business partners, Mayor Karen Tingle-Sames said Monday, during her state of the city address.
She reminded hundreds of community and business leaders who gathered for lunch at the Hilton Garden Inn that those team members attend their churches, shop in the same stores and volunteer with them in the city.
"I know and trust Toyota enough to be certain they will address all the problems," Tingle-Sames said.
The mayor said she has received phone calls from media outlets, including Fox News, CNN, NPR, BBC Radio, The New York Times and Reuters. Tingle-Sames said she has not hesitated to tell everyone the community has confidence in the company.
A campaign recently started to spread the word about the community's support of Toyota. Signs and bumper stickers are being distributed that read, "We Support Toyota."
"A very simple slogan," Tingle-Sames said. "But a slogan that holds true for this community."
Following the address, Scott County Schools Superintendent Patricia Putty said she was glad the mayor discussed her support of the car manufacturer because some people don't realize how much Toyota supports Georgetown and the state in the arts, education and other areas.
Toyota was not the sole subject of the address, which many in attendance said was more upbeat and positive than last year's speech. But Tingle-Sames spent a lot of time reflecting on new businesses and the city's improving financial situation.
She said a Tax Increment Financing project, also known as the Georgetown Events and Commerce Center, is awaiting approval from the state. Tingle-Sames said the project, which includes a 6,500-seat arena and retail center, will create about 850 jobs and will help make Georgetown a destination spot.
"This is the largest single economic advancement for the city since the announcement of Toyota," she said.
Tingle-Sames assured guests at the luncheon the city will not be financially liable for TIF bonds. And she said the arena will open and operate from a reserve fund of several million dollars.
"It is there to make a profit, not to be supported by government," Tingle-Sames said. "And I will not have it any other way."
The mayor said the city also has a balanced budget for the first time in years. And she said the city's debt has been reduced about 18 percent, from $15.8 million to $13 million, since she took office three years ago. The city is no longer worried about bankruptcy or being unable to meet payroll.
Council member Larry Prather said he thought it was nice that the mayor acknowledged that everyone on the council has tried to work as a team while making some difficult decisions. And, he said, there are still hurdles: The police department needs new cruisers, and employees haven't received a raise in years.
Tingle-Sames concluded the address describing the city she calls home as a place where Girl Scout cookies are still sold door-to-door, where people smile for no reason and where "we support our businesses when they struggle."
"We are the picture perfect postcard of hometown America," she said.