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State of the County 2013

‘Resurgence’ of Macomb County economy

In his third State of the County address, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel praised and promoted the accomplishments of the county over the past year but offered little in the way of new, specific projects or initiatives.

Hackel delivered his 40-minute speech on Dec. 4 before a packed house of 1,200 guests at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts at Macomb Community College’s center campus in Clinton Township. Backed by a projector screen, the executive augmented his optimistic words with short video clips showcasing everything that the county has to offer.

“Macomb County is in the midst of an incredible resurgence,” the Macomb Township democrat said, “a resurgence that starts with the remarkable recovery and diversification of our economy.”

Hackel contended that the foundation of this recovery lies in the county’s “unwavering commitment” to the domestic auto industry. As examples, he cited the recent $1 billion renovation of the Chrysler assembly plant in Sterling Heights and the opening of a $130 million IT data center at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren.

Hackel noted that Macomb County currently has nearly 18,000 businesses with more than 296,000 employees. This includes about 1,600 manufacturing companies, leading to more than $2 billion of investment over the last three years. It also includes around 12,000 retail establishments that add more than $2.8 billion to the county economy every year. Hackel was especially excited to highlight the recent announcement of an $8.4 million overhaul at Macomb Mall.

The executive also took time to recognize Macomb County’s agricultural community, which features 475 farms covering nearly 62,000 acres of land and 2 million square feet of greenhouses and nurseries.

“Here in Macomb County, agriculture is not a novelty — it’s a mainstay,” he said. “From produce to dairy to flowers … agriculture is a serious business.”

Hackel spent several minutes discussing Macomb County’s “blue economy”: freshwater assets that include 32 miles of coastline and 40 miles of rivers, led by Lake St. Clair and the Clinton River. He cited the completion of a new freshwater research institute, a $255,000 upgrade to the Nicholson Nature Center, a $1.5 million boardwalk and coastal preservation area, and the county’s Keeping the Clinton Clean initiative.

This was one of the few areas where Hackel unveiled new future projects that could be coming down the line. These included additional coastal marshland and restoration areas, a walkable pier district and riverside development district, a waterfront state park, new campgrounds, and expansion of existing conservation and hunting districts.

“We have the opportunity to better link residents and visitors to the benefits of these natural resources,” Hackel said. “All of this blue activity is leading to more green for Macomb County.”

In addition, Hackel addressed the county’s role in the national defense industry, starting with facilities such as Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township and the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) headquarters in Warren. Macomb County possesses “a desirable cluster of defense assets,” he said, supported by a network of more than 600 companies that have been awarded around $30 billion in national defense contracts since 2000 and which currently capture more than 60 percent of Michigan’s total defense business.

When discussing higher education, the executive pointed to several large universities across the state that have opened facilities in Macomb County in recent years. He also highlighted recent developments such as Wayne State University breaking ground on a $12 million advanced technology education center in Warren and MCC receiving a $24.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to support advanced manufacturing training.

Hackel also outlined continuing efforts to ensure Macomb County’s future success by taking a regional approach, particularly via the recent establishment of a regional transit authority (RTA) across metro Detroit.

“The Detroit bankruptcy has not changed our view of the city of Detroit or this region,” he said. “This region can go from good to great with a unified transit system. Transit is an asset, and the RTA gives us an opportunity to invest in our infrastructure and develop a viable new funding option.”

Other areas that the executive touched on were the county’s continued support of military veterans thanks to overwhelming voter approval of a countywide millage, the reopening of Freedom Hill Amphitheatre in Sterling Heights, and the county’s new $13.5 million communications and technology center (COMTEC). The latter facility, which Hackel called “a model for intergovernmental operations,” was expected to be fully operational in less than two weeks.

All of these projects have been made possible, Hackel said, because of the creation of the Macomb County charter three years ago, which established a new form of government with an executive branch. Hackel noted that when he took office in January 2011, the county was “straddled with structural budget deficits” and was projected to run out of funds by the end of 2012. Now, after a third straight year of balancing the budget while eliminating $60 million of budget deficits and adding $30 million to the rainy day fund, Hackel believes that the county has a budget that is “enviable.”

“Macomb County is seeing a remarkable transformation, which is producing an incredible quality of life,” he said. “By fixing our finances and our budget, we can now focus our attention on Macomb County’s future. … We have faced a lot of challenges with our finances, and we have resolved the issues that were holding us back.”

In conclusion, Hackel vowed to continue to raise the profile of Macomb County and build a greater sense of community via his office’s ongoing “Make Macomb Your Home” campaign.

“From day one,” he said, “we have been driven by a vision of a better Macomb County. And it is this vision and desire that is leading us to new realities: the reality that, in Macomb County, we have created an environment where government is focused on productive and purposeful outcomes; the reality that we have streamlined the roles and functions of county government; the reality that we have continuously followed through on our promises; and the reality that there is a growing sense of pride in this place that we call home.”

Among the hundreds of elected officials in attendance for the event — which also included the Taste of Macomb afterglow party featuring food and beverages from 29 county eateries — was outgoing Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, who commended Hackel for his emphasis on regionalism and the possibilities offered by a regional transit authority.

“All of us political leaders know that we need to come together to move this entire region forward,” he said. “That (RTA) will be huge for us. It helps that we’re getting strong support from our federal government on that. Things are looking good, and I believe it’s going to happen very soon.”

For Bing, all the good news coming out of Macomb County is a testament to Hackel’s leadership.

“It’s nice to hear that things are going so well here,” he said. “With all the amenities that you have out here, this is a really nice, safe place to raise a family. Mark is a great leader, so I feel like things are only going to get better for Macomb County.”

Dave Flynn, chair of the county Board of Commissioners, stated that while he appreciated Hackel’s enthusiasm for promoting the county, there is still much more work to do going forward.

“It’s always nice to have an opportunity to showcase all the good things happening in Macomb County, which Mark obviously did tonight,” said the Sterling Heights democrat. “But the Board of Commissioners will continue to work on substantive issues that expand the scope and effectiveness of services that we can provide.”

Some of these issues include finding ways to better assist the homeless, seniors, the unemployed and others still feeling the effects of the recession.

“We’re in a unique position where we find ourselves in strong financial shape as the domestic auto industry has recovered and many jobs have returned,” Flynn said. “However, Macomb County would be remiss if we did not mention the need to redouble our efforts to take care of our most vulnerable residents. Beyond that, we have to invest in both county employees and infrastructure if we want to continue to be successful.”

by Jeremy Selweski C & G NEWSPAPERS