May 01, 2013 - Five years ago, Oxford government was viewed by developers and businesses as "hard to work with."
"It really hurt us," said Todd Bell, chairman of the township planning commission.
But instead of wringing their hands, township officials took it to heart and decided to do something to help change that unflattering perception. They created an Economic Development Subcommittee (EDSC) to drum up business and polish Oxford's tarnished image.
"We became proactive right from that point (on) and we've made some great strides," said Bell, who serves on the EDSC.
Five years later, both the township and village are now part of Oakland County's new economic development initiative dubbed One Stop Ready.
County representatives addressed planning commissioners from both the township and village last week about how this program works, how it can help their community and how they can help and learn from other municipalities that are looking to attract economic opportunities and investors.
"There's 61 communities in Oakland County and we think there's a lot to learn and a lot to share amongst all of them," said Dan Hunter, deputy director of Oakland County Economic Development and Community Affairs. "It's a great time to be working on this because the economy is really starting to fire. We hope it continues to."
Launched in January 2012, the One Stop Ready initiative has a "long-term goal of lowering barriers for businesses that want to locate in Oakland County," according to an introductory letter from county Executive L. Brooks Patterson.
"This new program encourages community leaders to review their policies, compare best practices and work hand-in-hand to make business development easier," he wrote.
"Communities which self-evaluate, share information among their departments and with other communities, and provide outstanding customer service hold the keys to attracting new business development."
Right now, One Stop Ready has seven participating communities, of which only Oxford has a township and village engaged in a cooperative effort.
"We think it's really unique – the two (working together)," Hunter said. "It's the only one like that."
Bret Rasegan, planning supervisor for Oakland County Economic Development and Community Affairs, gave Oxford officials an overview of One Stop Ready.
"We're not intending that this program will be a critique of your (master) plan," he said. "It's not going to dictate what your local vision is. It's to help you accomplish that vision, help you implement your master plan."
One of the main purposes of One Stop Ready, according to Rasegan, is to help government officials "put themselves in the shoes of an investor," so they can "provide valued customer service to those individuals that are spending time and money and effort to invest in (their) community."
"And by investor, we don't only mean a developer. We also mean a property owner who may want to put up a fence or build a garage," he noted.
One Stop Ready includes:
n Conducting workshops for officials (both elected and appointed) and key staff members;
n Implementing tools/strategies (i.e. best practices) to make working with local government a more convenient experience for investors;
n Marketing the community's desire to improve customer service, along with its successes and development projects, through websites, newsletters and open houses;
n Meeting with county and local liaisons at least two or three times annually to share ideas and best practices.
Rasegan stressed that One Stop Ready is about each community engaging in self-evaluation and self-improvement.
It's not about comparing communities and judging which ones are doing things the right way and which ones are doing things wrong, he explained.
"We're not intending (to hold) any kind of an awards ceremony," he noted.
Hunter noted things are improving economically in Oakland County. Last week, two University of Michigan economists provided the county with its annual economic forecast.
"The numbers were absolutely fantastic," Hunter said.
In 2011, about 24,000 private sector jobs were created in the county. The following year, saw about 23,500 more jobs.
Hunter explained the amount of job creation during those two years rivals 1994 and 1995, so "the private sector is definitely doing its thing."
The forecast for the next three years projects the county will gain an additional 40,000 to 45,000 jobs.
"Our staff at Oakland County, we're out to prove them wrong," Hunter said. "We think that we're going to see better than that."
Despite all these promising numbers, Hunter reminded Oxford officials that the county isn't out of the woods yet.
In 2009 alone, Oakland lost 60,000 jobs.
The unemployment rate is still at 9 percent, which means 50,000 to 60,000 residents are looking for jobs, but can't find them, according to Hunter.
Planning Commissioner Jack Curtis, who chairs the EDSC and serves as a trustee on the township board, noted things are looking up in Oxford as the township already has 27 new home-starts this year.
"The momentum is growing fast," he said. "The economy's churning. I believe we're ready. We're doing things with the resources we have and we're projecting a more positive image to the public."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.