October 30, 2013 - Thems that know me know I, like many Americans, root for the underdog (and as I type this I can still hear the nerdy intones of the late actor Wally Cox as he gave voice to the TV cartoon character, UnderDog . . . but that's for another column). Yep, I am an unabashed cheerleader for small, hometown business.
Heck, I even host two morning "Coffee Clubs" every week just so local business folks can connect with each other.
Over the years I've extolled the virtues of local guys and dolls who have tried to be their own boss and run their own business. Some have made a nice go of it, others have crapped out.
I've written about local government rules and regulations and officials; some were stupid, others needed to get out of the way for the benefit of the community.
I've been known to write my opinions on things and back in the late 1980s when I wrote local business types shouldn't complain about business being bad, if they were only going to be open from 9 to 5, when most of their customers are working. That led Oxford pharmacist Tim Davidson to guilt me onto the Oxford Area Chamber of Commerce's board of directors. (After 10 years of serving on that board, three as president, more as VP, when I left it was with nary a handshake, nor flower, nor plaque. There's nothing to mark said service -- again that is for another column.)
I reckon my bluntness has served me well as well as gotten me into some awkward predicaments.
So it was with some trepidations that I agreed to a meeting in the Oakland County Executive's office. Woodshed time?
I was surrounded by Oakland County Deputy Executive Matt Gibb, Dan Hunter (the county's deputy director of economic development) and Bill Langdon, of Langdon Capital Management and an Oakland County Business Roundtable Ambassador.
Gulp. This was a little high-fa'lootin' for your hero (that would be me), a mere small town boy'o with a stupid little column. I sipped my water and waited.
Why was I there? Why? I can tell you this: It wasn't because of my natural charm nor good looks.
I was there to hear and then disseminate what the county has been working on to make life easier, not only for business folk, but regular people, too. In particular the One Stop Shop initiative. This program is to help individual communities streamline their practices -- so if I want to build a garage, I go to the local government one time, talk to all the folks I need to one time, design a plan to all their specifications, go to their government meetings for approval the least amount of times. I save time, money and negative energy.
You'd think that was a no-brainer. But, anybody who has tried to do something (build a building, business or home) knows the process is anything but streamlined. It's the opposite of streamlined. It's disjointed, timely, costly and well not very friendly.
Of the 61 communities in Oakland County, those in the pilot program this year included both Oxfords, Waterford, Auburn Hills, Pontiac, Wixom and Lyon Township. To be a One Stop community, elected and appointed officials need to go through four training sessions. The sessions go over the community's priorities and goals, developer goals, processes that have worked best in other communities, plus understanding the importance of websites, pre-applications and liaisons -- folks who do all the follow-ups to make sure deadlines are met. All officials sign their name on a poster displayed locally and the process is improved. There's a little more to it than that, but you get the gist.
I didn't get the sense locals need to give up any of their autonomy to an overlord county official.
The county is looking towards expanding this program and my understanding is Independence Township is wanting to get involved. They should. So, too should Clarkston, Orion and Lake Orion. I reckon Ortonville, Brandon and Groveland should, too. Springfield Township? Well . . . they're different cats out there and I don't know if they'd want any outsiders offering suggestions to help local businesses grow.
For more info, go to www.AdvantageOakland.com and look around.
I'd like to hear from folks who have benefited from this program in Oxford, or who have felt slighted because of it. Share your stories!
E-mail Don, Don@ShermanPublications.org
Don is Assistant Publisher for Sherman Publications, Inc. He has worked for the company since 1985. He has won numerous awards for column, editorial and feature writing as well as for photography. He has two, sons Shamus and Sean and resides in the area. To read archived copies of his columns, click on his name, just under his picture up top . . . He can be e-mailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org