Downtown Auburn Hills, following the approval of a new student housing complex with parking and retail space (the largest development of its kind), is celebrating the openings of at least six new businesses in the last three months.
The downtown business openings leave only one small vacant storefront. The openings are the joining of a deliberate effort of economic development and Chamber of Commerce officials and entrepreneurs looking for new ways of life in a changing economy, says Tom Tanghe, assistant city manager and director of human resources and labor relations.
“It’s sort of a big deal in this economy,” Tanghe says, “to have this many businesses opening at the same time.”
The openings were becoming so regular that the city and the Chamber of Commerce tried a twist on the usual ribbon-cuttings by holding them on the same night at an event called a strolling ribbon cutting.
He says groundwork, mainly in the way of streetscape projects, was laid back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“We had some pretty good activity around 2002, 2003 and 2004. Residential condos, townhouses, office, retail,” he recalls. “Around 2006, 2007, everything came to a screeching halt. We had a number of vacancies. Of course when the market crashed in ’08 everything just stopped.”
What changed, he says, was the arrival of “a lot of people with the entrepreneurial spirit. In some cases they have given up hope on the private sector and decided they’d seek out a different destiny,” he says.
There are no franchises among the bunch of new businesses on Auburn Road: YourSource Management Group, HomeCrafters Home Improvement, Sound-Wave Music & Arts, Walker Self Defense Academy, Edge Men’s Grooming and the Pampered Pooch LLC, which grooms nearly 30 dogs a day.
In addition to the infrastructure being in place and entrepreneurs striking out on their own, newcomers were attracted by investments and grants from TIFA (Tax Increment Financing Authority), which captures taxes in designated areas to be used for economic development.
One program grants up to $30,000 in matching funds to help businesses build out their spaces. Facade improvement grants are also available.
“The city makes a strong case for new businesses to open their doors downtown,” says Denise Asker, executive director of the Auburn Hills Chamber of Commerce. “With an appealing mix of architecture, restaurants, shops, recurring community events, and access to free Wi-Fi, the commercial climate here couldn’t be better, whether companies are established entities or emerging enterprise.”
Source: Tom Tanghe, assistant city manager and director of human resources and labor relations; Denise Asker, executive director of the Auburn Hills Chamber of Commerce
Writer: Kim North Shine