PONTIAC — “Oakland County’s economy is rebounding,” county executive L. Brooks Patterson said yesterday in his 19th State of the County address at the Seligman Family Performing Arts Center on the Beverly Hills campus of Detroit Country Day. He cited innovation and job attraction within the knowledge-based economy as the reasons behind Oakland County’s success which includes an 8.5 percent per capita income increase from 2010 to 2011 and an estimated 25,000 jobs created in 2012.
“As I embark upon another four years as your County Executive, my administration is committed to continuing to innovate in the areas that attract diverse, high-paying jobs that support an economic rebound,” Patterson said.
Contributing to the rebound are Patterson’s innovative business attraction initiatives such as Emerging Sectors, Automation Alley, and Medical Main Street. Here are some highlights:
- Emerging Sectors: In the past month, Emerging Sectors reached the $2 billion investment mark since its inception in 2004. That $2 billion in investment from 230 companies, which occurred over the period of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, has created more than 27,000 jobs and retained 12,700
- Medical Main Street: A quarter of Oakland County’s top 25 employers are hospitals. The first medical INNO-VENTION conference in Rochester last October produced six business leads the county is currently pursuing. The INNO-VENTION conference brought engineers and designers from medical device manufacturers together in the same room with medical doctors. This year’s INNO-VENTION will focus on IT and healthcare Nov. 6-8 at the Troy Marriott.
- Automation Alley: The 2012 Technology Industry Report just released by Automation Alley says our region ranks first in the number of engineering and engineering technology degrees completed at colleges and universities in our area – that all adds up to 7,000 new scientists and engineers graduating from our colleges and universities each year. A trade mission focused on meeting with Brazilian businesspeople in the fuel technology, information technology, and environmental technology industries. Last year, Automation Alley attracted eight high-tech companies to our region resulting in 365 jobs.
Economic growth entails not just attracting companies to the region but also maintaining a well-educated and highly-trained work force. Patterson announced in his speech that Oakland County has launched a new website called www.MITradeSchool.org that will connect those seeking training in the skilled trades with schools in the area that offer the training.
“As much as I stress the knowledge based economy as the new reality, we should not overlook the opportunity for high-paying jobs in the skilled trades,” Patterson said.
Attracting investment from China continues to be a facet of Patterson’s economic diversification strategies for Oakland County. In the past year, business representatives from Oakland County conducted two trade missions to China with great results.
“Representatives from my Economic Development team took two trips to China this past fall which yielded great opportunities for our Emerging Sectors initiative,” Patterson said. “My Deputy Matt Gibb spent 10 days in China with Gov. Rick Snyder in September and met with more than 20 life science and automotive companies in four cities including Shanghai and Changchun, and three provinces. Three Chinese delegations scheduled meetings here with Oakland County officials as a result of Matt’s trip.”
Among Oakland County’s success stories with China are the bridges Oxford Community Schools is building with the world’s most-populous nation. In response to Patterson’s call for Mandarin language and culture programs in Oakland County schools, Oxford community Schools now has 11 sister schools in China; operates one international high school in Fushun, China; and will be opening a second school in Chongqing, China this coming fall. Oxford Schools also is exporting education to China virtually as well.
“Oxford Schools currently have more students learning Mandarin Chinese language and culture in a fluency based program than the rest of the school districts in Michigan combined,” Patterson said.
Meanwhile, Patterson’s budget team, in cooperation with the Board of Commissioners and other county elected officials, continue to save Oakland County taxpayers millions of dollars and maintain the county’s AAA bond rating. This year, a budgetary innovation will save taxpayers more than $100 million dollars with the refinancing of Certificates of Participation with General Obligation bonds.
Back in 2007, Oakland County issued nearly $557 million in “Certificates of Participations,” or COPs, to fully fund traditional retiree health care benefits. The county achieved huge savings. The retiree health care debt service dropped to roughly $48.5 million annually for 20 years versus the pre-COPs annual contribution of $60.2 million over 30 years. That reduced payment schedule has already saved the taxpayers more than $100 million.
“At the end of November, the Board of Commissioners approved my administration’s request to refinance the COPs using low-interest general obligation or GO bonds. County taxpayers will save more than $100 million from the refinancing of the COPs because interest rates have dropped. In addition, because of the growth in the investment value of the county’s two retiree health care trust funds, the county will be able to pay down the principal on the outstanding COPs balance by at least $75 million. This will leave the combined trust funds 110 percent funded.
“Isn’t it nice to hear somebody in government talk about saving $100 million instead of spending $100 million?” Patterson said.
There is another element of innovation in Oakland County that is improving the delivery of county services, reducing costs, and in some cases producing a revenue stream: cloud computing. Two years ago, Patterson introduced the idea of embracing cloud computing where, for a reasonable fee, Oakland County could make available to other units of government some of the county’s leading edge software programs. Known as “G2G Cloud Solutions,” it saves the local governments money because they do not have to pay hefty licensing fees or buy sophisticated hardware in order to utilize some of the best-in-government software technology.
Oakland County is expanding the cloud even more in the year ahead because it has proven to be a successful delivery mechanism for shared services among governments. The county has put out an RFQ – or a request for qualification – inviting private sector companies to provide information on how they would interact with Oakland County in a public-private partnership that would enable small governments with limited resources to consume technologies that were not affordable to them before.
“Innovations like these are garnering some heavyweight attention,” Patterson said. “This past September, Phil Bertolini traveled to the White House to represent Oakland County as the only county among 13 government recipients across the nation to receive the president’s ‘Champions of Change’ award.”
Finally, Patterson talked about the progress of his continued recovery since the Aug. 10, 2012 crash that left him and his security officer James Cram with numerous injuries. At the start of the State of the County event, Patterson abandoned his wheelchair and walked out onto the stage under his own power using a walker. The crowd roared with applause. Toward the end of the speech, Patterson said he continues to make progress.
“I am in physical therapy three times a week and water therapy on Saturdays, so it’s a busy schedule of rehab. I also have resumed a full work schedule, as well,” Patterson said.
In an emotional moment, he asked the audience to pray for Cram as he faces his own challenges.
“So the next time you’re talking to God, you might let Him know that there’s a good guy down here who needs His help,” Patterson said.