PONTIAC (WWJ) – Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson told the audience at his annual state of the county address that when you look up the word ‘excellence’ in the dictionary — “there’s a picture of Oakland County.”
That upbeat attitude stayed intact through Patterson’s Wednesday evening speech, which marked a departure from gloomier speeches the last few years. This time, Patterson praised the manufacturing, medical, and Main Street sectors of the local economy that were once down, but are roaring back with an improved economy.
He touched on the past few years that had “job losses, property devaluation, shrinking budgets,” but said no more cuts will be coming in Oakland County in the foreseeable future.
“The good news going forward: there will be no more budget cuts scheduled for the current fiscal year 2012, or 2013, 2014 and 2015,” Patterson said. “Let me repeat that: there will be no budget cuts for fiscal years 2012 through 2015.
“Because of the past eight years of “thoughtful management” and carefully planned structural changes in our benefit costs, Oakland County’s financial position has actually improved at a time when nearly every other government struggles to avoid red ink.”
Patterson conceded Oakland County lost jobs during the Great Recession – 147,203 total since 2002. But he said, “We are on a furious pace to replace those jobs with high-paying, sustainable new jobs.”
Patterson said from the end of 2008 to the end of 2009, Oakland County lost 58,000 jobs; from the end of 2009 to the end of 2010, they created 13,000 jobs.
In the audience were Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, who was jokingly introduced by Patterson as “low profile.” Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel was in the house, as was suddenly controversial U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra, who ruffled feathers across the country with an Asian-themed Super Bowl ad some called insensitive and racist.
Saying Oakland County has led the region in improving the economy “through initiatives that my administration has launched,” Patterson asked the crowd for their support in a “re-election year.”
Bolstering his economic optimism, Patterson praised the county’s Medical Main Street initiative that has assisted 24 companies in relocating or expanding in Oakland County the last few years, which Patterson said created 1,933 jobs and retained another 638.
“My goal was to bring together the disparate assets, create an awareness that over the last 15 to 20 years Oakland County had indeed become a center for excellence in healthcare, and that it was only a matter of time before Medical Main Street and Oakland County could challenge the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic for top honors – and we are well on our way,” Patterson said.
On the medical front, he also praised the Oakland University School of Medicine, the first medical school to open in Oakland County in nearly 60 years. It opened its doors in the fall of 2011 with 50 students and is now interviewing for the next class of 75 students from a national field of 3,700 applicants.
“And if you think about it for a second, ladies and gentlemen, you’ve all heard about the invidious “brain drain,” where our best and brightest are fleeing to the east and west coasts. Well, the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine single-handedly is reversing that brain drain,” Patterson said.
Automation Alley is another jewel in the crown of Oakland County, Patterson said. The consortium of high-tech companies, government entities, and educational institutions launched in 1997 with 43 companies now has more than 1,000 members spanning eight counties in southeast Michigan.
“It competes with the likes of Silicon Valley, Boston’s Route 128, and North Carolina’s Research Triangle,” Patterson said, adding, “Southeast Michigan is second only to San Jose’s Silicon Valley region in the number of people working in architectural and engineering occupations, and has the highest concentration of architectural and engineering employment in the Midwest.”
Patterson said the Main Street program that pours dollars into potentially high-achieving downtowns has brought $579 million in local downtown investment, created 6,128 jobs and opened 713 new businesses.
In terms of green technology, Patterson praised the new LEED certified terminal at Oakland County International Airport features heating and cooling through geothermal wells; photovoltaic panels on the roof to capture the sunlight and convert to energy; wind spires that generate electrical power to help offset the cost of our utility charges; a living wall, a perpendicular garden with tropical plants from around the world.
“I know I have some ‘Doubting Thomases’ out there in the audience who are skeptical about any benefits achieved through the utilization of green technology. Well, we have some early returns and I think you will be impressed,” he said.
He also urged the audience to be impressed with the $201 million in cash oakland County had on hand at the end of the fiscal year.
“We’ve built up this reserve during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” Patterson said.
– Read the full text of Patterson’s speech (pdf. format) –
But it wasn’t all fun and games. Patterson failed to invite Democratic county commissioners to his speech, saying he was angry Dems filed a lawsuit against him and the state for his involvement in legislation that reduces the number of commissioners to 21 and puts the GOP in charge of re-drawing the districts. A ruling on the lawsuit is expected this week.
So the Democrats held their own state of the county address just prior to Patterson’s.
“I just ask the listeners today to think about whether President Obama, when he gives his state of the nation report, if he would ever consider, you know, having half of the Congress not attend,” Commissioner Craig Covey, D-Ferndale, earlier told WWJ Newsradio 950.