Community looks ahead

By Colleen Miller

A solemn reflection of the economic climate, an optimistic forecast for the future and even a playful stab at the famously criticized food served at Oakland University were all part of the Community Outlook Luncheon held on the university’s campus Thursday, Feb. 25. But mostly, the theme of the day was how partnerships will bring the region out of this economic slump.

Area leaders including Oakland Township Manager James Creech, Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett and Mayor of Rochester Jeff Cuthbertson presented how they’ve managed their municipalities in these tough times to over 200 guests ranging from chambers of commerce members, elected officials and representatives from organizations in the community.

New partnerships 

Cuthbertson announced two new partnerships for Rochester: one is with the OU INCubator to help small businesses and entrepreneurs. 

The program will provide loans anywhere from $5,000 and $50,000 to such entrepreneurs, early stage ventures and grown companies. These funds are expected to be available within 12-18 months.

“The investment of about $100,000 of (Downtown Development Authority) money will be contingent upon the match of $400,000 in private equity and capital fund the private sector,” Cuthbertson said. The goal is to attract new businesses, “particularly those that are coming through the Oakland University INCubator.”

A number of new businesses have managed to pop up in the region last year, including 17 in Rochester Hills carrying over 400 jobs. 

Rochester is anticipating five new restaurants to open doors downtown, thanks to bistro liquor licensing and  other ordinances friendly toward outdoor dining establishments, and a new assisted living establishment where a vacated Century 21 brokerage sits.

Rochester Hills is expecting a Meijer to open up in May right next to the Wal-Mart at M-59 and Adams.  Barnett said he and the city council have also aggressively worked to retain eight companies that were up on a lease or strongly considering leaving the city, but all eight of them, like Webasto, recommitted to Rochester Hills.

Also expected to make a significant economic impact on the region is the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, which received preliminary accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education on Feb. 1.

“We are waiting for one more accreditation which will come April 1,” said OU’s President Gary Russi. 

The medical school is on track to begin recruiting and admitting students this spring and begin course work for the charter class in the fall of 2011.

“It can help facilitate, with your help, this region becoming a center of biotechnology and biomedicine and that helps us of course move from an industrial base to a  knowledge based economy,” Russi said.

At a press conference preceding the luncheon, President and CEO of Crittenton Hospital Lynn Orfgen highlighted their partnership with the Karmanos Institute.

“We have a mutual desire to provide patients with quality care and the most recent manifestation of that commitment is the development of the Karmanos Crittenton Cancer Center,” he said, which is located at M-59 and Crooks. It opened Feb. 1 to offer innovative cancer treatments.

Eco-friendly initiatives  

Not only is Rochester Hills becoming a hub for medical growth but also for green technology and living.

Barnett spoke highly of the eco-friendly initiatives the city of Rochester Hills has taken, including the single hauler waste removal that began April 1, 2009.

The partnership with Allied Waste and the Recycle Bank rewards program has not only increased recycling in the city by 400 percent but has brought an estimated $300,000 to local businesses, all in less than 10 months.

“In 2008 we had about 18 percent of our population regularly participating in recycling. With the new program, over 90 percent of our residents now recycle regularly. In just 10 months we have diverted 5,200 tons of materials from landfills to reuse,” Barnett said.

Barnett said he plans to announce the results of the city’s “25 in 2” plan soon, which called for a reduction in energy consumption by 25 percent over the past two years.

There is no doubt of the negative impact the market is having on the neighboring communities. Rochester and Rochester Hills have both cut city employees to make up for declining property tax rates. Oakland Township, where housing is their number one market, saw only four new home builds in 2009.

“To tell you that our region has struggled in the past few years would simply insult your intelligence.,” Barnett said. “Our region has not just struggled but we have been under economic attack.” Rochester Hills saw 320 foreclosures in 2009; there were only four in the year 2000.

“As the English proverb says, a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, and therefore we feel that it’s not the absence of challenges but rather how you choose to deal with them that will prove your worth,” Barnett said.

Events announced

Coming to downtown Rochester for the fifth year will be Michigan’s largest Earth Day Celebration held April 22-25. 

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and the celebration will be bigger than ever.

“With all the additions this year, we’ve grown from what was an expo to really now a festival,” said Steve Rogge, one of the event’s organizers. “We will celebrate what is working in our community and showcase leadership in green business, government and nonprofit.”

The event is anticipated to bring 100,000 people to see over 200 green and wellness exhibits ranging from children’s activities home improvement and energy conservation displays to organic food and drinks. 

Representatives from green auto technology programs, the Sierra Club, local nature centers and health inititiave programs will also be there.  

Information regarding the Earth Day Celebration is available at

Jeff Cuthbertson also announced another event coming to Rochester on Oct. 17 as part of a partnership with the Special Olympics, the Amazing Michigan Race.

“About 200 teams of four will test their endurance,” Cuthbertson said. “They follow clues and compete in challenges throughout the Rochester area to race to the finish line.”

The idea for the race was inspired by the popular television show, The Amazing Race, and is scheduled to take place in the middle of October.

“This is a great event that will be a marquee fundraiser for Special Olympics in Michigan,” he said. “We’re very proud to have them in Rochester.”

Michigan’s largest Christmas parade will be sponsored by Genisys Credit Union this year and held in downtown Rochester on Dec. 5.

“Right now it’s estimated we have about 3,000 businesses and families and non-profit and civic organizations … participating in the Christmas Parade,” said Dennis LaPorte of the Rochester Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Genisys will also be co-sponsor of the Grand Marshal celebration on Dec. 2.