The modernization of Interstate 75 will improve commerce and the quality of life in Oakland County, said County Executive L. Brooks Patterson in his 2016 State of the County speech Wednesday night.
“Adding a lane north and southbound on I-75 from Eight Mile to M-59 will have a significant impact on commerce and driver convenience,” Patterson said. “Companies along I-75, like Fiat Chrysler, that support I-75’s modernization, will see their employees in a safer commute; it will give companies along I-75 the ability to move goods more quickly through that corridor; and certainly improve the quality of life by easing some of the worst traffic congestion in our area.”
Phase one of adding a lane to I-75 will begin this summer in the Square Lake Road area.
Patterson delivered these comments at the Auburn Hills Marriott Pontiac to an audience of 600 attendees just a couple hours after the Michigan Department of Transportation sent out a press release announcing the project. If one were to draw a line three miles east and three miles west of I-75 from Eight Mile Road to Lapeer Road, it would encompass over 23,000 business – more than half of all the businesses in Oakland County – and 339,000 employees, about half the county’s workforce.
The widening of I-75 in Oakland County presents a tremendous opportunity for Patterson’s Oakland County Connected Vehicle Task Force too. MDOT is researching the possibility of making that stretch of I-75 a connected freeway, which means installing infrastructure that will communicate with automobiles.
“From the point of view of the Oakland County Connected Vehicle Task Force, we are excited about the possibilities if I-75 were to become a connected freeway through our county,” Patterson said. “We know the auto companies and suppliers would utilize it as a test bed to advance their connected vehicle programs. And it would be happening right here in the heart of Oakland County.”
Patterson cautioned, however, that there are a number of hurdles to clear for I-75 to become a connected freeway. The task force is at the table hoping to find the most feasible way forward.
Oakland County’s economy has reached what economists call full employment, at or below 5.0 percent unemployment. With an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent, Oakland County’s unemployment rate is better than the U.S. unemployment rate of 4.9 percent.
“The state of the Oakland County is strong! Amazingly strong. Vibrant,” Patterson said.
Patterson cited his administration’s economic diversification accomplishments as contributing to the robust economy. His economic initiatives have reached a total of about $7.8 billion in investment since the inceptions of key programs:
- Oakland County’s Emerging Sectors® initiative, which attracts companies in the knowledge-based economy, has seen 371 successful business attractions with a total investment of more than $3.3 billion creating 37,000 jobs and retaining 21,000, a total of 58,000 jobs.
- Since the launch of Emerging Sectors in 2004, Oakland County has also aggressively pursued traditional companies representing 243 traditional successes for a total investment of over $2.3 billion creating 13,700 jobs and retaining over 19,200 jobs, a total of 33,100 jobs.
- In the first four years of the recovery from the Great Recession, Oakland County gained back over 79,000 jobs, most of which are in the medium to high-wage category. University of Michigan economists Dr. George Fulton and Donald Grimes conservatively forecasted an additional 49,000 jobs through the end of 2017.
- The Oakland County Economic Development Corporation and the Oakland County Business Finance Corporation which has helped finance 648 small businesses over 35 years for a total investment of $1.5 billion creating over 26,500 jobs.
- Main Street Oakland County, the first countywide Main Street program in North America serving Oakland County’s 32 downtowns has seen 940 businesses invest $668 million creating 7,000 jobs since inception in 2000.
With a budget balanced through 2021 and a AAA bond rating retained since 1998, Oakland County has transitioned to investing for sustainability.
“When we saw the Perfect Storm of the Great Recession on the horizon in the 2000’s, thanks to our multi-year budgeting practices, we quickly reduced and reorganized county government between 2008 and 2011. That enabled us to absorb the greatest percentage loss of property value of any county in Michigan,” Patterson said.
“From 2012 to 2015, we transitioned to maintaining and stabilizing our budget. Our ‘thoughtful management versus crisis management’ approach helped us weather the storm of the Great Recession and we began to see skies clearing on the fiscal horizon,” Patterson said.
Now Oakland County is investing for sustainability to attract new employees and improve the government campus to better serve customers. Those investments will include six weeks of paid parental leave for new mothers and fathers who work for the county.
“I will propose that Oakland County move forward with a program that offers paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers. The final design of the plan will be determined in partnership with the Board of Commissioners. The goal will be to provide six weeks of paid leave for both parents. For birth mothers, the leave will be in addition to any maternity disability benefits currently provided,” Patterson said.
“Paid parental leave is a benefit current and future employees look for. It is a benefit for a new parent that provides a real advantage to families. It is a benefit that can significantly increase the personal and economic well-being of families,” Patterson said.
Other investments for sustainability include:
- Children’s Village, whose staff care for some of Oakland County’s most vulnerable children, has collaborated with the Oakland Integrated Healthcare Network to open a medical clinic on site staffed by doctors and nurses. It is the only juvenile care center in Michigan that now provides a fulltime medical clinic for kids. The doctors in this clinic provide preventative medical care instead of merely being on call for emergencies.
- Oakland County will build a new animal control and pet adoption center slated to open in 2017 on its main campus in Pontiac. It will enhance the care Animal Control Division gives to the more than 5,000 pets that come through its doors every year and optimize the likelihood of adoption.
- Oakland County’s Information Technology Department will install a new Unified Communications and Wireless System to replace an aging phone and messaging system. This new system should improve county employees’ ability to communicate externally with the public internally with each other. The new system looks to address the need to communicate and do business with a more technically savvy public.
Patterson also announced that Oakland County is looking ahead and preparing to respond should the mosquito carrying the Zika virus make it to Michigan. He outlined what Oakland County Health Division has accomplished so far which includes:
- Posting Zika virus travel advisory information to the county’s webpage.
- Sharing what is known about the Zika virus, the mosquito that carries it, testing protocol for pregnant women who visited any of the infected countries, and EPA approved repellants with the local public health, emergency preparedness and medical communities.
- Tracking phone calls concerned about the Zika Virus that come into the Health Division each day.
“I am not waiting for the Zika virus to be identified in Michigan,” Patterson said. “Proactively, Oakland County will utilize a portion of its West Nile Virus budget to also combat the Zika virus. I am pleased to announce tonight we are bolstering our mosquito response budget by $160,000, bringing it up to a total of $350,000. Oakland County is and will be ready.”
Oakland County Health Division has developed a program that will be a model for the rest of Michigan and county health departments around the U.S. The Health Division launched an initiative called ECHO which stands for Energizing Connections for Healthier Oakland. Over the past year, Oakland County and its public health partners have conducted a comprehensive countywide assessment of residents and businesses to get the big picture of health practices in the county and the health status of residents. This is the first time that such a survey has been done on this scale in Michigan. The Health Division looked at 11 core categories which included health resource availability, behavioral risk factors, maternal and child health, and environmental health.
“We will utilize this data to reshape the focus of our public health policies and initiatives in a way that will have the greatest impact on improving the overall health of our residents and thereby improving the quality of life in the county,” Patterson said.
In June, Oakland County and its 32 health partners in this effort will announce a Community Health Improvement Plan based on the ECHO survey. Patterson will ask Oakland County businesses and organizations to align their wellness strategies with ECHO.
“If we are able to get the buy-in we are seeking from Oakland County companies, we will move the needle on public health forward in Oakland County,” Patterson said.
In September, Oakland County International Airport hosted the state’s first Air Transportation Expo with the Michigan Business Aviation Association (MBAA). As robust as our recovery has been, it hasn’t been so for general aviation. The task of the expo was to educate corporate decision makers about Oakland County International Airport and its modern facilities, the aviation businesses that are based there, and what utilizing them means for the corporate bottom line.
“Michigan’s first Air Transportation Expo was a resounding success. Our expo visitors were so delighted with the outcome… that they asked us to hold another one in 2016. I’m pleased to announce tonight that we will host Oakland’s second Air Transportation Expo on Sept. 22,” Patterson said.
Patterson concluded his State of the County speech optimistic about the future.
“I hope when you leave here tonight, that you are buoyed with the confidence that Oakland County is doing very, very well. With a budget balanced through 2021 and an economic diversification program that has helped us reach full employment, you can tell why I am proud of what we accomplished and enthusiastic about the direction in which the county is headed,” Patterson said.