Race For The Top
It’s experience vs. new ideas at the top of the Oakland County ticket.
Kevin Howley, 53 — a relatively unknown businessman who runs a turnaround management firm for nonprofit organizations and small businesses — versus Goliath — L. Brooks Patterson, 73, the legend, seeking a sixth four-year term as Oakland County Executive and touting the fact that during the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, he has still managed to balance the budget and receive a AAA bond rating for Oakland County. Brooks presides over a $796 million annual budget and a county workforce of nearly 4,000 full- and part-time benefit-eligible employees.
Howley still likes his chances. In the 2008 election, he said some 170,000 Oakland county residents voted a straight Democratic ticket, while 125,000 voted Republican. Brenda Lawrence, Patterson’s 2008 opponent, only garnered 42 percent of the vote, which he called an anomaly.
County residents voted a straight Democratic ticket, while 125,000 voted Republican. Brenda Lawrence, Patterson’s 2008 opponent, only garnered 42 percent of the vote, which he called an anomaly.
“There were a lot of Democrats not supporting her,” Howley said, citing Democrats’ strong showing in the county. Treasurer Andy Meisner won with 52 percent, Prosecutor Jessica Cooper with 54 percent and President Barack Obama with 56 percent.
“The challenge for me is not converting right-wing or hard-core Republicans, or even the majority of independents, it’s keeping the people on the Democratic side of the ticket, and making sure when they feel comfortable voting for Jessica and Andy, they feel comfortable voting for me.”
Howley, who lives in Huntington Woods with his partner and two young children, said that Patterson has not “articulated a vision for Oakland County and has told voters that he is simply running on his record.”
“While it is wonderful that Oakland County has been blessed with the resources to balance its budget, Oakland County is being left behind in so many other categories,” Howley said, citing 175,000 jobs lost in the county from 2000-2010, and the number of children on Medicaid rising from 10 to 25 percent. “I have higher expectations.”
Part of the problem is related to image, he said. “Young families are not choosing Oakland County as a place to settle, and entrepreneurs are not establishing businesses here. The real challenge is that we are not acknowledging these trends or creating solutions to move Oakland County forward and adjust to the dynamics of the 21st century.”
“Mr. Howley has no record to run on, so he manufactures issues and complaints,” said Patterson, who is still recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident in August. “The business community is quite satisfied with our efforts and best attempts to promote business, and we’re attracting new business every month. We’ve got the evidence to prove that claim, so I just think it’s unfortunate that he runs such a negative campaign because he can’t run on his own performance.”
Patterson Makes His Case
Patterson spoke briefly by phone from an undisclosed rehabilitation facility, and was expected to leave there this week and return to work. His staff provided bullet points and background information on why he should be re-elected:
• Despite negative media coverage that has pinned Metropolitan Detroit as a declining region, Southeast Michigan is positioned ahead of Boston, Seattle and Austin in almost every measure analyzed.
• The Anderson Economic Group in Lansing says in its 2011 Technology Industries report that our region is now second only to Silicon Valley in engineering and architectural jobs.
• In the years before the auto industry meltdown, Patterson began to diversify Oakland County’s economy.
• In 1997, he launched Automation Alley to market the region as a center for high tech. Today, it has more than 1,000 member companies across eight counties — the largest high-tech business association in the Midwest. Since its inception, Automation Alley has conducted 15 trade missions to other countries, garnering more than $188 million in contracts for companies participating in the missions.
• Southeast Michigan has the highest number of advanced automotive industry jobs, accounting for 9.3 percent of all the advanced automotive jobs in the U.S.
• University of Michigan economists George Fulton and Donald Grimes forecast that over the next three years of a Patterson administration, about 34,000 jobs will be created in Oakland County. When Fulton and Grimes forecasted 11,500 jobs for 2011, Oakland County doubled their prediction with 23,000 jobs.
• For the first nine months of 2012, 38 companies have invested about $80 million in Oakland County, creating and retaining more than 7,600 jobs.
• The emerging sector of health care is exploding. Anderson Economic Group says 100,000 individuals in Oakland County work in that and related fields. That’s more than the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic regions combined.
• To support this burgeoning job growth, Patterson initiated Medical Main Street in 2008 to market the region as a destination for world-class health care, life science research and medical device manufacturing. Today, there are 4,900 clinical trials going on in our region — more than California, New York and New Jersey.
• In September 2012 alone, under Patterson’s Emerging Sectors program, three information technology and two advanced electronic companies invested about $2.5 million in Oakland County, creating 112 jobs and retaining 55.
Howley said empirical data show that the current Emerging Sectors program is not working, and that 90 percent of the 23,000 jobs restored in 2011 are related to the auto industry, and not a long-term indicator of the economic health and diversity of the county.
“We need to focus on 21st-century industries that are going to move Oakland County forward,” he said. “I would like to restore Oakland County to its historical position as the community of choice for young families and emerging industries. Our investments in economic development need to be strategic and cost effective, with a focus on workforce development, business access to capital, neighborhood stabilization and public transportation. We need to strengthen and defend our public schools, which have traditionally been our greatest competitive advantage.
“Relative to entrepreneurship, it’s going to take focus and commitment,” Howley said. “Look at what [Quicken Loans chairman and founder] Dan Gilbert did in Detroit. He identified a vision and then laid out the plan to make it happen — and it’s happening. We need to do the same thing in Oakland County.”
Howley said he would establish a leadership core “because the county has changed so dramatically over the last 50 years. It’s time to gather voices from throughout the county to develop a strategic plan with clearly stated goals and objectives to achieve that vision. For too long, too many communities have been excluded from county government — and that must change.”
Patterson said he will do “very well” Nov. 6, and will definitely seek one more term, but “Father Time is creeping up on me, and I’m definitely cognizant of that.”
Howley would prefer an earlier retirement for Patterson.
By Harry Kirsbaum, Contributing Writer