Patterson faces Democrat-majority on Oakland County commission for first time

November 11, 2018

Crain’s Detroit

By: Bill Shea

While the pundits and partisans debate the national scope of the so-called Blue Wave in Tuesday’s election, in Oakland County the reality is clear: Democrats will assume the majority of seats on the county commission for the first time since the mid-1970s.

And that may accelerate the county government’s participation in regional issues such as mass transit and economic development.

The current 14-7 Republican majority flipped on Tuesday to an 11-10 Democratic majority that begins Jan. 1. The only other Democratic majorities in the board’s history were 1972-1974 and 1976.

Tuesday’s result means longtime Republican Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson will face an opposition majority on the county commission since being elected to his role in 1992.

None of the four Democrats elected to formerly GOP seats campaigned as economic radicals, so there appears to be little worry of anything upsetting Oakland County’s business-friendly reputation.

The clashes may come if the Democrats push regionalism. Patterson prefers to concentrate on the county’s internal economic development and endorses regional issues only when the direct benefits to Oakland County residents and businesses are clear.

Patterson issued a statement the day after the election: “The results of Tuesday’s election were not unexpected. My administration has always reached across the aisle, especially at budget time, to pass a bipartisan, balanced, three-year budget. We will continue to do so.

“I look forward to working with the new board to continue my administration’s priorities of protecting Oakland County taxpayers with a balanced, multi-year budget, a AAA-bond rating, and a healthy fund balance. In addition, driving job creation in Michigan through diversification in the knowledge-based economy and supporting small businesses, investing in technology to improve government efficiency and services, and to enable our residents to experience a premiere quality of life through active and healthy lifestyles.”

Crain’s requested a chance to talk to Patterson directly about what he sees at potential conflicts with the new board of commissioners, but his office didn’t make him available.

Regional cooperation is the chief area that’s likely will be a source of tension between the commission majority and the county executive, said Oakland County Commissioner David Woodward, a Democrat whose 19th District represents Berkley and a portion of Royal Oak. He was first elected to the commission in 2004.

“When it comes to a lot of regional issues, Oakland County has been a barrier to progress, and that’s going to change,” he said.

Regional transit is especially a potential showdown. Patterson undercut the 2016 tax initiative that would have funded a system of high-speed buses and other transit options across Oakland, Wayne, Macomb, and Washtenaw counties. Its narrow failure at the polls — it lost by just 1,109 votes in Oakland County out of 586,000 cast — set back any effort at regional transit by years and left the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan gutted.

Patterson, long hailed by supporters and even some detractors for his stewardship of the county’s finances, also has staked out opposition to a new regional economic development effort, Woodward said.

Some of the region’s CEOs formed a loose coalition two years ago to back the regional transit effort, making it one of the rare occasions Patterson and Oakland County government found itself at odds with the larger business community. His objection to the tax was that Oakland’s participation wasn’t justified by the level of service its residents would get under the plan.

That nameless group of regional CEOs and organizations, during this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference, announced its plans to launch a regional economic development nonprofit public. Patterson hasn’t joined the group and in August drew condemnation when he said he’d “rather join the Klan” than pay dues to the new business attraction group. For him, the organization appears to represent a threat to county autonomy and its ability to lure companies. Phil Bertolini, Oakland County’s deputy executive and CIO, did join in an advisory role.

Longtime transit advocate Marie Donigan, an Oakland County political observer and former state representative from Royal Oak, predicts that any squabbling likely will come over the next effort to gin up regional support for mass transit along with economic development efforts that cross county borders.

“I’m sure the new Democratic leadership will be more eager to participate in regional efforts to bring businesses and jobs to the region while fighting for what’s best for Oakland County,” she said via email. “I think the Democrats will push the Regional Transit Authority to develop a vibrant public transit plan that meets the needs of those with no other choices while giving everyone else the choice to get where they want and need to go without having to rely on a car.”

Patterson appoints members to the RTA board and has veto power over any plan it proposes. He used that power in 2016 to carve out more benefits for the county before allowing it to go in front of voters.

Economic issues within Oakland County are likely to be more politically harmonious for the board of commissioners and the executive. Woodward said he’s optimist there largely will be bipartisan cooperation between the new board majority, the GOP, and Patterson.

“Democrats and Republicans in Oakland County government share a lot of the same priorities,” he said. Democrats on the commission campaigned on investing in people and infrastructure, and protecting the water, Woodward said. Roads are a priority for the incoming board, Woodward said.

“Frankly, those should be bipartisan issues,” he said.

Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah said he’s not concerned that the board’s control change will have much affect on Oakland County’s business hospitality.

“Oakland County has such a strong and growing base of businesses, it’s reputation for attracting business is so strong, that I don’t think changes in the county commission are going to impact that,” he said. “The change in control doesn’t mean Democrats don’t share similar goals to increase the tax base and make Oakland County a prosperous place.”

Baruah also said he believes Patterson is genuine in his pledge to seek bipartisan compromise because he’s done it when Democrats were the minority, and it’s in the best interest of the county overall.

“Brooks is a pragmatic guy. He’ll find a way to work with the new commission,” he said.

That pragmatism and rhetoric about bipartisanship on county issues will be tested when it comes time to carve out spending priorities next year.

Oakland County does budget forecasts on three-year cycles, and in September approved a balanced spending program totally $2.1 billion through 2021. The fiscal 2019 budget alone is $893.4 million. The county’s 5,100-plus employees serving a population of 1.25 million residents.

Oakland is the state’s second-most-populous county after Wayne, and is one of the most affluent in the nation. The 2010 U.S. Census ranked Oakland County seventh amount U.S. counties by median household income at $99,198. Tops was Loudoun County, Virginia, at $115,574.

Oakland County’s top employment sectors are health care and social assistance (102,419 jobs); professional, scientific, and technical services (102,348); retail trade (79,622); manufacturing (66,792); and administrative and support services (65,653), per stats provided by the county.

Baruah isn’t surprised the board flipped after so many years because demographic changes with the Democratic Party, which he said increasingly includes highly educated wealthy people that might once have been Republicans. Being business friendly isn’t just a GOP attribute.

“We’ve seen the purple-ing of Oakland County over the last decade and this is the year it finally flipped in a significant way,” he said.

The one constant for more than a generation of Oakland County politics has been Patterson, 79, who won his seventh four-year term in 2016. He was elected county prosecutor in 1976, a role he held until his county executive election 16 years later. He was badly injured in a 2012 traffic accident and hasn’t decided if he’ll seek re-election when his current term ends on Dec. 31, 2020.

View the original article

Chamber CEO Joins Roundtable Discussion on WDIV-4’s Flashpoint to Talk All Things Amazon

On Sunday, Sept. 25, WDIV-4’s Flashpoint centered its entire show on “The Amazon Chase.” Detroit Regional Chamber CEO and President Sandy Baruah joined Rock Ventures Principal Matt Cullen, Regional Transit Authority Interim CEO Tiffany Gunter, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Flashpoint host Devin Scillian to discuss how and why the Detroit region is a strong contender to be home to Amazon’s second headquarters.

The panel highlighted all the tremendous positives that the region has going in its favor – space, quality of life and the energy of a vibrant urban core, to name a few – all of which will be key factors for Amazon. “Detroit is an exciting place. It’s the comeback city. It’s the place of opportunity,” said Cullen.

Regional transportation and the need to attract and retain talent in the state was also discussed. In terms of the failed RTA ballot initiative, Gunter acknowledged that the ball has moved down the field in terms of progress around regional transportation. She added that plans are already underway on how RTA would tweak the next campaign. “Our region is ready for a change,” she said.

The roundtable panelists all agreed that under the leadership of Quicken Loans’ Dan Gilbert, the region would prepare and present a world-class proposal. “This is a great exercise in how much progress this region has made working collaboratively,” said Baruah. “I feel really good about where we are and how we’re doing this.”

The second segment of the program focused on how the proposal should look and featured Ignition Media Group Founder and CEO Dennis Archer Jr., Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Kirk Pinho and Detroit Creative Corridor Center Executive Director Olga Stella.

View the original article here.

New Destination Detroit Video Showcases Regional Collaboration

Destination Detroit is North America’s premier regional business attraction team. The regional initiative brings together all the resources of one of America’s fastest growing locations. Learn more about Destination Detroit by watching the video below:

Led by the Detroit Regional Chamber, Destination Detroit is operated in partnership with the region’s principal economic development agencies:



November 25: Registration Open for 2015 Mackinac Policy Conference; L. Brooks Patterson Highlights Oakland County Growth at Networking Event

Registration Open for 2015 Mackinac Policy Conference

Registration for the 2015 Mackinac Policy Conference, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s signature event that brings together nationally-renowned speakers and thought leaders on Michigan’s Center Stage, is now open.

The Conference will be held at the historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island from Tuesday, May 26 to Friday, May 29. This year’s Conference will drive statewide dialogue on talent, urban revitalization and cohesion, three key catalysts necessary to ensure Michigan’s dynamic and geometric economic growth.

Visit the Conference website for upcoming speaker updates, agenda and program announcements.

L. Brooks Patterson Highlights Oakland County Growth at Networking Event

Over 120 participants braved snowy streets to join Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson at Meadow Brook Hall last week to hear updates from the region’s most colorful county executive during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s second annual Networking Reception featuring the Big Four regional leaders.

In a positive sign of the region’s comeback, Patterson said investment in Oakland County’s business infrastructure is growing, and the county received six awards, including the Public Community Health Achievement Award for reducing infant mortality rates in Pontiac in 2014. Patterson also praised Oakland Community College’s partnership with Automation Alley to invest resources in college courses in order to fill high-demand software programming and web development jobs in Michigan.

The Chamber will host a Networking Reception with Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel in April. Program details and the event location will be released at a later date.

Businesses Receive Star Treatment in Chamber’s Gift Detroit Video

As the holiday season draws near, the Detroit Regional Chamber is giving Metro Detroit businesses a boost by reminding its members about the importance of shopping local. The Chamber recently contracted with Gold member Zara Creative in Troy to produce a branding video for its Gift Detroit program.

Gift Detroit allows Chamber members to purchase gift certificates that can be redeemed at local businesses participating in the program. The video features the bakery Avalon International Breads LLC; Hugh, a home goods store; and Thrift on the Avenue, an upscale clothing boutique reseller. It will be used to promote the Gift Detroit program as a community initiative among potential investors, showcase Detroit’s developing retail space and market Michigan-made products to build stronger relationships and collaboration among merchants in the city. Click here to watch the video. For more information on becoming a Gift Detroit merchant, or for a list of participating merchants, click here.

Score Free Gifts with Your Chamber Membership, Dec. 2

The Detroit Regional Chamber is celebrating its members during its inaugural Member Appreciation Day on Tuesday, Dec. 2. Throughout the day, post a picture of your Chamber member plaque on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and tag the Chamber on its respective handle. Be sure to make the post fun or include a clever caption. The most creative submissions will win great prizes every hour from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Prizes include two registrations to the 2015 Detroit Policy Conference; lunch with a Chamber executive at the Detroit Athletic Club; and a half page ad in the February edition of the Detroiter magazine. For more details and examples, visit the Chamber’s website. For more information about Member Appreciation Day, contact Lori Shiels.

Chamber Closed Nov. 27-28 for Thanksgiving Holiday

The Detroit Regional Chamber’s office will be closed on Thursday, Nov. 27 and Friday, Nov. 28 in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. The Chamber will reopen for regular business hours on Monday, Dec. 1.

The Master of Main Street

L. Brooks Patterson is leading a thriving life sciences industry in Oakland County

By James Martinez

Pages 8-9

As the struggles of the automotive industry have  proven: one industry economies can lead to one painful recession. While automotive is bouncing back, it’s clear more diversified job creators are still needed. Few elected officials in Michigan have succeeded in this effort like Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. In 2004, he created the county’s Emerging Sector Initiative to identify the top 10 sectors to attract and retain sustainable, high-paying jobs to the county. As part of this overall effort, the county launched Medical Main Street in 2008 to strengthen and grow the region’s life sciences hub. Now with 100,000 jobs, health care and life sciences is the largest of these emerging sectors in Oakland County. The Detroiter interviewed Patterson recently to discuss Medical Main Street and the health care and life sciences industry.

With starting Medical Main Street, you obviously believed in the potential of the life sciences cluster in Southeast Michigan. What type of an economic impact is this industry having on Oakland County and our region as a whole?
It’s our future auto industry. There is all kinds of empirical data showing the growth. Not just in bricks and mortar, but in employment — well over 100,000 jobs (in Oakland County). We have more people employed in the life sciences and medical device manufacturing than the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic combined. … It’s high-paying jobs. The kind of jobs that are going to be here 30 years from now, 40 years from now. In fact, we’re going to be expanding. You’re looking at our largest employers. One-third of the top 15 largest employers are hospitals. Of course you start with Beaumont Health System who replaced General Motors as our largest employer. But now you have Beaumont merging with [Henry Ford Health System] and they  will be the largest health care provider for years to come. And that’s good. That’s where we want to guide Oakland County.

How did Medical Main Street come about?
A headline in the newspaper sparked my interest. It referenced a couple hundred thousands jobs leaving Michigan. And if you read the story, you knew this wasn’t the typical automotive cycle, these jobs were gone. … I asked my economic development team: “Where are the jobs of the future?” I had no idea. I had some thoughts in the back of my mind, but I didn’t try to guide the research, I let my team come up with the answers. And sure enough, they came up with 10 sectors (including life sciences) for the future economic growth of Oakland County. I wanted jobs that were sustainable, high-paying and high-tech. I’m convinced with everything that I read and hear that the future of Oakland County will be in the high-tech, knowledge-based economy.

What do you think the success of Medical Main Street has shown about the life sciences industry?
It flourishing is number one. And the capital investment, there are hundreds of millions of dollars. I think we have $680 million from the medical fields investing in Oakland County. That’s [nearing] a billion dollars. It is a well-financed field. It brings in high-paying jobs and the educated worker. I have a theory, too, that people who have a higher degree of education tend to educate their kids. So we will be educating the next generation  as well. Those are the kids that are going to take the place of  their parents in these positions. It locks them into a high-mode  of education for years to come.

Medical Main Street has a very impressive board, a virtual who’s who in Southeast Michigan’s health care circles. How does this board help Medical Main Street expand this industry?
I think it helps people take notice. The first INNO-VENTION conference we had this fall got us national attention. These firms are known around the world. So when a company from Germany or Italy or Israel is looking to expand and they see these companies already lined up, it’s going to act as a magnet and attract more good investment. There is a clustering effect.

What is your proudest achievement as part of Medical Main Street?
I think the INNO-VENTION conference was a grand slam for us. It put us on the board. It showed that we’re serious, that we’re players. It showed that we can pit out talents up against other premier medical communities, whether it’s in Texas, New York or California. We showed them that we’re capable of putting on a very incredible program.

Do you see the INNO-VENTION programming expanding?
There will be a second program this fall. It’s just one of the facets I’d like to see us get into. We’d like to see us eventually get into having a Medical Main Street area or venue, with a theater or auditorium or lecture hall [for this type of event]. And we’re talking to different developers about that.

What is the focus of the next INNO-VENTION?
The [inaugural conference] was about medical devices. We thought it was timely. … Technology permeates everything in life. [In 2013] we’re going to talk about technology and how it’s going to improve. IT is the 800-pound gorilla already in the room. So we’re going to show how it fits hand in glove with the medical field. INNO-VENTION 2013 (held Nov. 6-8 at the Marriott Hotel in Troy) will focus on how information technology is fueling changes in health care and its impact on the next generation of medical devices.

Where do you see Medical Main Street and the life sciences industry in Southeast Michigan in 20 years?
It’s dominant today and there is no reason why it would subside. Very quietly over the last couple of decades, under the cover of darkness, it crept into Oakland County and staked its claim. Everyone was so enamored with the auto industry, and properly so. I’m not taking shots at the auto industry, my father worked for Chrysler for 30 years. Auto was king of the mountain since World War II. We rode that horse hard, and put him away whipped, and we paid the price in 2009. We lost 60,000 jobs in one year. With all the ups and downs and challenges from overseas sending quality cars into the market at a competitive price — nobody saw what was happening in the medical field.  All of a sudden you have some of the best medical research [being performed] here. Our research and the volume of it compares favorably to any place in the country. The merger of Beaumont and Henry Ford health systems will only enhance that because they are both doing significant research. It will emphasize all the good things we’ve done and all the good things we’re going to do.

How has your recent car accident impacted your view of Medical Main Street and the life sciences industry  in general?
I appreciate it a little bit more.  I’m glad they put away the leeches and moved into the 21st century (laughing). … I like [life sciences] because I’m trying to bring good  jobs to this community — quality jobs, sustainable jobs to Oakland County. We had that with automotive, this is where the middle class was built. There was an end to that unfortunately. We’re working here to replace the quality of life that the automotive industry gave us for all those decades. But I see it certainly [happening with] the medical field.
How do you think the Affordable Care Act will impact Southeast Michigan’s economy?
Like Nancy Pelosi said,  We have to pass it and see what’s in it.’ I think we’re still discovering more and more surprises, more and more fish hooks, more and more expenses. I see it as an ultimate downer of what I’m trying to create and support here. At some point in time, I can’t believe that America is not going to rise up and repudiate Obamacare. It’s a bad experiment, with how much damage and pain we’re going to feel.

You are in your sixth four-year term as Oakland County executive. What’s next for L. Brooks Patterson?
Seventh term (laughing). Obviously, this is where I’ll finish out my public career, in this office. I’m not going to run for Governor or Congress or anything like that. I love this job. I’ve spent my entire public career in Oakland County. If you would have asked me that 40 years ago, I would have said you’re crazy. I started down at the prosecutor’s office and then came over here. … I’ll finish this term. It’s undecided what will happen next. If my health is restored, I’ve got a few programs I’d like to implement. I’ll probably go one more term for sure.

James Martinez is director of communications for the Detroit Regional Chamber.