An economic improvement plan crafted jointly by Oakland County and Pontiac is getting high marks from federal officials. That’s a good sign, and this partnership holds promise for struggling communities like Pontiac throughout Michigan and other states.

Representatives from the region met recently with Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, to review the finished “Pontiac Moving Forward: An Economic Recovery Strategy.”

Williams, who has worked with Oakland County officials in the past, was impressed with the plan.

He says he’d like the proposal developed here to become an example for other regions.

“Across the country, this is a model that deserves some close attention and should be replicated,” Williams says.

The federal official says the concept of a wealthy county collaborating with one of its economically distressed cities isn’t new, but it hasn’t been used to the extent demonstrated by Oakland County and Pontiac.

This is important for attracting investment. As Williams notes, investors “tend to look at regions and they see that what Oakland and Pontiac are doing for the region is exceptionally notable.”

From a local standpoint, the plan is just the beginning, but the recognition means projects proposed under the strategy are in line for federal grants.

Bret Rasegan, planning supervisor for Oakland County, says the strategy was financed by an $80,000 federal grant. The Oakland County Department of Economic Development & Community Affairs and Pontiac collaborated on the plan that seeks to help Pontiac’s economic recovery.

The detailed, 70-page strategy is divided into six areas, ranging from strengthening neighborhoods and developing a city marketing plan to attracting new investors and helping existing businesses expand.

There’s even a portion designed to coordinate and attract arts to the city. Artists are seen as both social and economic assets. Job training is a focus and involves working with local universities and colleges.

As noted in its introduction, the strategy is the result of contributions from hundreds of individuals, businesses, community leaders and other stakeholders in the county and the city.

“This is the first time that I’m aware the county has worked with a local government to prepare a plan of this type,” Rasegan notes.

As projects progress, he says county staff will work with Pontiac’s mayor and city administrator.

If or when funding is obtained, projects will range from sewer improvements to converting the one-way Woodward loop around the downtown into a two-way thoroughfare.

While struggling communities may feel the need to pursue economic improvements on their own, the most successful are those that cooperate with surrounding municipalities and their county governments. Joint efforts have a greater chance to succeed.

Other communities should follow Oakland’s lead.

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