State of the City

Yesterday, even as the City of Auburn Hills turns 30 years old this year, Mayor Jim McDonald highlighted 2012 accomplishments and looked ahead to 2013 in his Annual State of the City Address at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

I really enjoyed how the Mayor framed our place in the world when he stated “Our reputation as a corporate powerhouse often overshadows our youth.”   

The Mayor went on to explain that even though we have a larger business presence than we do residential, we’ve been able to maintain that small-town feel.  Some of the ingredients to our success include good schools, wonderful volunteers, and great corporate partners.  Mayor McDonald also explained that much of our success over the past 30 years can be attributed to a strong City Council, knowledgeable city staff, our corporate partners and civic-minded residents who consistently put the needs of the City and its constituents first while following a strategic vision for future development.

In presenting his year-in-review synopsis, Mayor McDonald pronounced “community” as a recurring theme in 2012, and forecast that community will continue to be a cornerstone of the City’s success in 2013.  Following are some highlights of his address:

Fiscal Responsibility and Budget

Auburn Hills maintains its status as a financially stable city. The City’s 2013 adopted budget, along with 2014-2017 projections, marks the second year the City produced a five-year financial plan. Careful planning and tremendous leadership of staff and City Council has enabled Auburn Hills to continue its services to residents and businesses without tax increases. The City has not issued any new debt, and tax valuations are expected to stabilize in 2014, the Mayor reported.

–Business Development

For the 6th consecutive year, Auburn Hills was recognized by the University of Michigan-Dearborn for being a city that fosters entrepreneurial growth and economic development. The award reflects the Auburn Hills Advantage, a formalized approach between the building department, City Council, and the community and economic development team which capitalizes on the distinct advantages of doing business in Auburn Hills.

In fact, Auburn Hills added 30 new industrial businesses to the community in 2012, processing more than 350 building permits to build or renovate over 1.5 million square feet of industrial space, 100,000 square feet of office space, and 65,000 square feet of retail. The City saw nearly $40 million invested in improvements to existing buildings and more than 600 new jobs created.  

The Advantage played out when Gardner White Furniture moved its corporate headquarters to Auburn Hills this past summer. Although the company’s proposal to open a retail store and distribution center in a vacant industrial building did not fit into the conventional zoning mold for retail, Auburn Hills looked at a strategy that allowed 5% of the building to be dedicated to retail use without changing the zoning for the area. The City’s flexibility enabled 200 jobs to be created and $15 million invested into vacant building creating a new 350,000 square foot distribution center on N. Atlantic Blvd.

In this new economy, Auburn Hills has proved speed is key. Plastics Plus, a distributor of thermoplastic resin, was on the receiving end of the Auburn Hills Advantage. The City reviewed and approved their construction of a new building in just 42 days. The project broke ground in July, and by December, the building was filled.

The City also welcomed Teijen Advanced Composites America Inc. The company anticipates investing over $6 million in personal property for development of applications of carbon fiber-reinforced thermoplastic (CFRTP) composite products and plans to create 25 jobs.

The Palace of Auburn Hills invested $15 million for improvements to the suite and concourse areas, validating Tom Gores’ commitment to maintaining the sterling reputation of the Palace and his plans to keep the Pistons in Auburn Hills. (and I will add that the Palace has paid their taxes and pays for any police services they need, unlike other such venues).

In June, Auburn Hills welcomed 140 new employees to the new world headquarters of Henniges Automotive on High Meadow Circle in Oakland Technology Park. The leading global provider of highly engineered sealing and anti-vibration systems for automotive applications also worked with Auburn Hills to obtain “LEED” certification of its $10 million “green building” facility.

The Mayor revealed that City Council approved a major expansion at Continental Automotive Systems, Inc. With its extensive R & D footprint in Michigan, the addition will be part of a comprehensive growth initiative for the company, representing about $4.8 million in investment and 170 new jobs in Auburn Hills.

P&F Systems, a division of Magna International, Inc., plans to invest $18.8 million to renovate the former Uni-Solar Building on Lapeer Road. The company will transform the 167,500 square foot vacant building into an industry-leading manufacturing, assembly and sequencing facility and create 230 jobs in the process.

The Mayor also zeroed in on the impact of small business, and recognized Sid Blomberg, the owner and President of K&S Ventures, Inc., a mechanical and electrical contracting company that moved to Auburn Hills in 2011. The Mayor applauded Sid being a great example of what a small business owner should be—hiring local people and being committed to the community by volunteering time and talents. After one year in Auburn Hills, Sid hired three employees and is looking to expand his business within five years. He gives his time as a member on the Avondale Education Foundation, the Avondale Athletics Booster Club, the City’s Bond Steering committee, and volunteers at various high school sporting events.

The Mayor also reported that Manufacturers News published its 2012 Michigan Annual Report, and calculated there are 23,024 industrial workers in Auburn Hills, which places the City third in Michigan in industrial employment, slightly behind Grand Rapids and Detroit. These results are a testament to Auburn Hills’ pro-business environment, continual efforts to pull from the area’s educated workforce and maintain a diverse tax base, and retain its prominent manufacturers, such as the Chrysler Group LLC, BorgWarner, US Farathane, Jabil Circuit, Inc. and Ralco Industries, he concluded.

–Downtown Development

The Downtown continues to be a hub of activity for Auburn Hills as the graduate student housing and municipal parking deck take shape. The 97 one- and two-bedroom units and 6,100 square feet of retail space on the first floor are scheduled to open this fall. The project was a public-private partnership with the 233-car parking deck funded by the City’s Tax Increment Finance Authority (TIFA) at a cost of $4.8 million and the apartments funded by the developer at about $9 million.

Additional activity is taking place at the former Stan’s Dugout, which is now called University Center.  The two-story building was purchased by the TIFA and will be used by a variety of partners including Auburn Hills United College Access Network (AH UCAN), an exciting collaborative effort between the City, Avondale School District, Oakland Community College, Oakland University, Baker College and Thomas M. Cooley Law School. The second floor will house Avondale School District’s virtual academy and the UCAN, while the first floor will have classroom gathering space for college students.

Downtown also saw the opening of Sweets, a coffee, dessert and snack café, and welcomed back Pat Elwell, who came out of retirement to open the Elwell Grill.

The vision for Downtown was created in 1999, according to the Mayor, and envisioned a “triple anchor concept,” featuring three major attractions to draw people to the area. Nearly 15 years later, that vision is becoming a reality. In addition to the first anchor of student housing, he revealed plans are in the works to create the second anchor, an amphitheatre in Riverside Park starting in 2015. The City has also assembled 41 acres to the east to attract the third anchor. 

 –Police & Fire Departments

Public safety remains a top priority for the City, and the Mayor praised the newly-combined police and fire departments for being “the best staffed and trained for a municipality of our size.”

The new model for administration of police and fire services, which was approved by City Council last year, combined the administrative oversight of the police and fire under one Emergency Services Department. As a result, several hundred-thousand dollars in savings has been realized through the reorganization. McDonald also noted that the most serious crimes—robbery, assault, homicide and arson—were down 2.61% from our already low numbers in 2011.

–Environmental Excellence

Auburn Hills continues to take the lead in responsible planning to achieve environmental sustainability.  Working with Rochester and Rochester Hills, the City undertook a year-long project determining a strategy on how to achieve economic prosperity while protecting the environment and providing a high-quality of life for residents. The City also continues to find ways to incorporate alternative fuels into its fleet. Working collaboratively with Chrysler Group LLC, Magna, DTE and the Clean Energy Coalition, Auburn Hills was the first community to adopt a charging station ordinance to ensure that infrastructure to support plug-in vehicles was available to the public. No other city in Michigan has been more proactive in promoting the use of electric vehicles.

In October, SEMCOG presented the City with the Sustainable Community Recognition Program Award for being a leader in sustainability. In 2013, McDonald predicts Auburn Hills will continue to lead the State in municipal advancement of green transportation and other initiatives.


–Philanthropy, Volunteerism, Employee of the Year & Event Wrap Up

Mayor McDonald was real happy to announce that the City’s new Community Foundation, established in 2011, is now in a position to offer grants to nonprofit organizations that are focused on Auburn Hills. To date, mini grants have been awarded to: 1.) the Avondale SKILL program, a small business initiative that teaches students about commerce while helping them develop employable skills; and 2.) the Rochester Area Neighborhood House, which has helped families in need of Shelter Assistance.  

Volunteer efforts continue to make a positive impact on the community. Auburn Hills volunteers completed more than 10,000 hours of service in 2012 (1,000 more than last year). More than 10,000 meals were delivered to homebound seniors in the City’s Meals-on-Wheels program, and the volunteer-driven SHARP (Senior Home Assistance Repair Program) continued to help City seniors and disabled residents. The Mayor also put out a call for volunteers at the Public Safety Building, which is looking for citizens to staff the desk on Mondays through Fridays from 9 am – 6 pm. 

Mayor McDonald also thanked Darlene Kitchen for her 210 service hours in 2012, the highest of any volunteer last year. Darlene, who serves on the Travel Committee and the Community for a Lifetime Assessment program at the City, is also a technical expert for the Social Security Administration and helps seniors with questions they have about Social Security. 

In 2012, the City implemented an Employee of the Year program to recognize an outstanding employee nominated by their peers. ‘Thoughtful, fun, leading by example and keeping the team spirit alive’ are words to describe Auburn Hills’ inaugural winner, Mikey Gorak, who is a Recreation Coordinator at the Community Center. The Mayor recognized her outstanding customer service, professionalism, enthusiasm, and for being a true representative of Auburn Hills.

Having community come together through special events is something to be proud of, said the Mayor. Auburn Hills continues its tradition of hosting terrific events for all ages.

The Downtown Farmers’ Market continues to bring people, fresh produce and other seasonal items together in an entertaining outdoor environment. It will return in June 2013 and run through October.

Downtown Summerfest remains a popular tradition for families as more than 6,000 people attended in 2012. A long-standing custom of Summerfest is the City Council’s ice cream social, and over 1,700 bowls of ice cream were scooped in 2012 by council members.

Auburn Hills Police held its 13th National Night Out in August to demonstrate how much Auburn Hills values the support of public safety members and their efforts to keep the community safe. The free program, featuring entertainment, food, and public safety demonstrations to raise awareness of crime prevention and community involvement, was recently recognized at the national level for the fourth year in a row.

Fall programs continue to grow, including the Bluegrass Festival in September, the Fall Festival in the Woods in October, and the Downtown Spooktacular, which broke an attendance record with more than 500 coming into the Downtown for Halloween festivities.

Auburn Hills’ year-long calendar of events wrapped with the annual Christmas Tree Lighting in December. More than 500 people viewed the lighting of the 30-foot City tree, met Santa and Mrs. Claus, and enjoyed horse drawn carriage rides and s’mores by the fire in the heart of Downtown.

The Mayor concluded that as we continue to move forward in 2013, there will no doubt be challenges, but we will maintain our focus of making Auburn Hills a great place to work and spend leisure time.

Prior to the Mayor’s remarks, Todd Lancaster, incoming Chair of the Auburn Hills Chamber of Commerce, unveiled the promotional video, “What is Auburn Hills?” The video underscores the theme of community and highlights the qualities that make Auburn Hills the city it is today: education, progress, international business and local business. The video was created under the direction of the City’s Coordinator of Community Promotions, Mike Espejo. It can be viewed here and on the City of Auburn Hills Facebook page.

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  • Peter Auger, Auburn Hills City Manager

    Peter Auger, Auburn Hills City Manager

    Thoughts on running a city, daily musings, and everything in between.