Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development
It was an awkward question to ask. You could tell by looking at the expressions of some folks in attendance that they did not appreciate what it implied.
We were simply asked a Yes or No question: Would you consider your community the “best” at facilitating economic development? How do you answer that question in front of your peers without sounding cocky?
Honestly, I wished for a second that our City Manager Pete Auger was there to stand up and eloquently offer his views. His leadership and influence on our organization has galvanized us from top to bottom on one common purpose. We call it “Radical Hospitality.” But, Pete couldn’t attend, so we answered collectively and unequivocally … Yes! However, that’s not the whole story.
As a little background, several leaders from the City of Auburn Hills, along with members of six other communities, attended an educational workshop held by Oakland County yesterday for its One Stop Ready Program. One Stop Ready is a proactive initiative aimed at streamlining the development approval processes in municipalities throughout the County.
Why is this important? A ton of jobs and tax revenue have been lost in Michigan since 2005, which has created a gaping hole in our budgets of lost money needed to provide the public services people have come to expect. Thus, we need to do a better job as a region to recruit and retain businesses. We must let companies know that they are wanted. Perhaps, first say “Thank You” when someone decides to invest millions of dollars into your community and then work side-by-side to help them do it.
The impetus behind the County’s question was to foster friendly competition between the communities to motivate them to do better. Their message was ground in the reality that if you don’t want to hustle to recruit or keep businesses, others will – whether in the town next door, or in North Carolina, or in another country – and you will lose.
It has become common place in Auburn Hills to see the world through the “eyes of a developer.” We have found that they are not evil (most are very nice people) and that they create jobs and pay a lot of taxes, which helps us keep police officers on the street. Over the years, we have collaborated with hundreds of businesses to make a better community for everyone. It’s a smart game plan.
However, it’s not just the competition that motivates us to work our butts off on a consistent basis. Trust me, we are very competitive and like to do well. But, it’s the love and passion we have for the City of Auburn Hills and the legacy that we wish to leave behind that inspires us. We have a discernible vision for serving the customer in a unique way, along with a strong emphasis on excellence and quality. It’s the ethics of our organization. So, gaining additional tax revenue is simply one of many important bottom lines – a by-product of our desire to serve others.
Author C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Pride is essentially competitive. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.”
Are we the best? Yes, with the caveat that we’re not good enough and must work everyday to get better. Our focus is not centered on pride, but on building a better mousetrap. We’re driven out of the interest of excellence and service to people, not to put ourselves in a position to look down on others. In my humble opinion, an intentional focus on this type of radical hospitality, if fully embraced, can help Oakland County grow for many generations to come.