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Coulter: Oakland County drives Michigan economy

By: Terry Oparka | C&G Newspapers | Published February 17, 2020


OAKLAND COUNTY — Oakland County Executive David Coulter outlined his agenda, “Oakland Together,”  during his 2020 State of the County address Feb. 12.

It includes a push to get defense and government contracts, a goal for 80% of Oakland residents to have a post-secondary degree or credential by 2030 and a transit solution that would benefit the entire region.

Coulter delivered his one-hour speech to a sold-out, invitation-only crowd at the Flagstar Strand Theatre for the Performing Arts in downtown Pontiac.

Attendees included Wayne County Executive Wayne Evans and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.

Coulter outlined an initiative for expanded health care for county residents through a partnership with Honor Community Health at clinics in Southfield and Pontiac, which will offer general primary care, family planning and dental services, and will later include mental and behavioral health services for county residents.

Coulter said a “key pillar” of his agenda is “diversity, equity and inclusion. Working with the Board of Commissioners, we established the position of chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer.

“It is also a fundamental value of mine in our county that we condemn the growing level of hate speech,” he said. “Hate speech leads to hateful action.”

He said that Oakland County will catch up to neighboring Wayne and Macomb as a welcoming county for new Americans, noting that refugee entrepreneurs generated over $70 million for the economy and paid $130 million in state and local taxes in one year.

Touting a $260 million fund balance, a AAA bond rating, $1.5 million in new business investment generated every day and $235 million generated in foreign direct investment, Coulter praised Oakland County’s fiscal health, economic strength and leadership under former County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

“When I started this job, I made it clear I was not going to try to fill Brooks Patterson’s shoes. Instead, I was going to try to be the best version of me,” Coulter said.

“No one would deny that Brooks was a strong and proud Republican, yet he held the view: There are not Democratic ideas or Republican ideas. There are Oakland County ideas.

“I believe the fact that Oakland does well means we have an opportunity, indeed a responsibility, to do even better.”

Coulter referenced the unanimous vote to approve the balanced, three-year budget just three weeks after his appointment. That budget includes an investment in local roads and a $15 minimum wage for county employees.

As part of the Defense and Aerospace Initiative, Coulter said the county will focus on growing defense and aerospace contracts and jobs with a goal of $1 billion in new investment by 2025 — three times higher than the current level. “And we’re going to do it,” he said.

In view of Pontiac’s progress and the county’s commitment to Pontiac, he announced that the county’s Division of Community and Home Improvement will move into downtown Pontiac.

“We are going to be a full partner with our county seat, the city of Pontiac,” Coulter said.

Speaking to regional transportation, Coulter cited data that 40% of the Oakland County workforce commutes from other counties, and nearly 300,000 jobs in the county are not currently served by a fixed route transit, including Oakland University and the four major hospitals.

He said he is not interested in “dusting off” the 2016 plan that failed, “albeit narrowly.”  He wants to see if there is a new plan that would garner support from voters.

“I say give us a chance. Come to the table,” Coulter said. “Talk to us about the needs of your residents, talk to your businesses, consider recent innovations and help us craft a plan that works for our county.”

Following the address, Oakland County Commissioner Eileen Kowall, R-Walled Lake, issued this statement. 

“As we enter Oakland County’s 200th year, Republicans stand willing to work together when the policies are good and in the best interest of the taxpayers,” Kowall said. “We demand transparency, accountability and professionalism. Six months into Democratic-controlled government, Oakland County is on the fast track to deficit spending and increased taxes. We can, and should, do better for our residents.”

County Commissioner Janet Jackson, D-Southfield, had a different take.

“Oakland Together describes the fact that the county is transforming into an entity that wants to ensure opportunities for all of its citizens, throughout the entire county,” she said. “The hiring of a diversity and inclusion officer is a big step toward reaching residents and employees who may have felt previously disenfranchised. The changes coming will make the county a much fairer place to live, work and play for everyone.”