Meet Dayton’s new mayor, Nan Whaley.
She’s the youngest mayor of Ohio’s six largest cities, but 38-year-old Nan Whaley has high expectations for Dayton. Whaley sat down and spoke with Dayton Magazine about jobs, regionalization and the future of the city.
Nan Whaley takes the lead as she transitions from commissioner to mayor.
What was your first impression of Dayton when you moved from Indiana?
My first impression was at the University of Dayton: I was with my Dad. I went to high school in southern Indiana and never really heard of Dayton, so I had no real concept of Ohio, and to most people Ohio was Cleveland. I was surprised first that it wasn’t that far away. And then I got on campus; it was a beautiful day and people were really friendly and I said, ‘This is where I want to be.’
Any lessons you can draw from your education that you use in politics?
I think being a chemistry major makes you think quantitatively. Chemistry is about things coming together and making something new, but its those right amounts or wrong amounts that can mess up a bond or a solid. The math and analytic side from undergrad is helpful and made me think of things differently than maybe a political science major or history major.
What was the greatest lesson you learned as commissioner?
Learning how to work with people and building consensus is what I learned the most. The way the government is, you have to have consensus, and you have to have a team. I think that is really valuable to this city.
How do you think your role will transform as mayor?
When you’re commissioner, you don’t get as much attention and that is going to change for sure. Just since the election—during this past year as people come to know who the mayor of Dayton is—there has been a lot. Then it’s a question of leadership: you lead the team. I loved being on the team, but being the leader of the team is a different piece of what the mayor is.
Dayton lost a great amount of manufacturing jobs, but you seem focused on maintaining the area as a manufacturing hub. Why do you think those jobs will return?
Manufacturing has changed, so it’s more high tech and it’s not like your father’s factory. Manufacturing now requires more education and more skill sets, and I want to be clear about that. It’s not something we had in the past. We make things in Dayton and that is our nature and our business. We invent things here, too. It’s part of who we are. It’s still 18 percent of our economy overall, which is a good amount.
Around four years ago when the tough times happened and the closing of Delphi, I heard a lot of community leaders say manufacturing is dead. That concerned me considering it’s 18 percent of our economy. There is huge opportunity for research from the University of Dayton Research Institute and Wright State Research Institute to really be used to make things. The General Electric Aviation Center and the $51 million they invested there is a huge opportunity for things to be tested and made here. That is where the multiplier on the job effect is because you can put more people to work if things are made here. Further, we have the infrastructure for manufacturing. Many pieces of the supply chain are here.
Do you think regional government and service consolidation is a viable option for the city?
It’s really difficult and some people are paying for other people’s services and that’s an issue. I think that’s really the big thing in the room right now that nobody wants to talk about when they talk about regionalism. I’m really interested in that conversation but nobody really wants to have it right now.
Why should suburbanites care about the city’s downtown?
Downtown is the center of the region. When you watch Channel 7 news every night you see downtown. It’s the backdrop of every weather story, and if you go to other cities that picture is normally what the community resonates with. Urban centers make a region unique and it’s something that makes our region special. It’s also a core job location. Even though there have been a lot more jobs in the suburbs these days, there are a lot people from the suburbs who still work and do a lot of activity downtown.
How do you plan on attracting and retaining young professionals in Dayton??
I think people want to stay in Dayton but the job market has been pretty crushing. I have friends that say, ‘I love this town. It’s so cheap to live here, but I just can’t find a job.’ I think jobs were key in the conversation in the mayor’s race and it’s something I really plan on focusing on. It’s first and foremost. There are some people that want to go south and be in warm weather. I can’t change the weather in Dayton or Ohio, but I can create jobs for people that want to live, work and raise a family here. We can partner with people to make that happen and make that a focus. This urban density in downtown is important for young people. Being an open and progressive community is something that has been really important to me. From the greater downtown plan and more housing, to new development in downtown that is high density and unique and not fake … I think young people respect and like that and have a high sense of what isn’t real.
Are there any particular cities Dayton could model itself after?
I went to Boston for the new mayors training with the U.S. Conference of Mayors and it’s pretty obvious that Rochester, N.Y., Albany, N.Y., Pittsburgh, and Dayton have a lot of the same issues. I think it’s important to be real about the manufacturing issues we’ve had and the change in our economies here, and also some of the population changes that have happened over the past 40 years. I think we can take really good lessons from places like Louisville, Ky., specifically how they partner on education issues. I’ve been there a couple of times and Indianapolis as well. There are cities that are doing great things and Dayton is doing great things too, but I think you are always looking for new ideas.