Jun 22, 2010

Stale Livingston County leadership will stall any economic opportunity

Since last April the two main chambers of commerce have been holding meetings across the county for a “New Economy Summit” with the goal of laying out the process for writing a strategy for developing Livingston County's economy in light of the realities of the 21st Century.

It accomplished little because the all Republican Board of Commissioners are more interested in being able to put billboards up along I-96 that brag the county has the lowest county tax rate among Michigan's 83 counties than take any of the recommendations to make the county any thing other than a bedroom community. That has been one of my pet peeves since I moved here to my wife’s hometown 12 years ago.

We may have a low tax rate, but few services. Like the organizers of the forum said, quality of life amenities will improve the economy in Livingston County, "not industrial parks, not low wages, not low taxes."

Livingston County has no YMCA, yet smaller communities have them. We have no community colleges, yet almost every surrounding county has one. We have no county park system. We have no mass transit system. Our young people have to leave once they graduate from high school. Now, babies can no longer be born in the county after Saint Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital in Howell announced last month that they are closing the birthing center at the hospital.

Now, it’s apparent that the organizers of the summit are beginning to realize the hopelessness of the situation with the stagnant leadership this county is saddled with, and we will always be a bedroom community with little opportunity or reason for young people to stay.

Another session was held last week, and Glenn Pape, the regional land-use policy educator for the southeast region of the Michigan State University Extension, summed it up very well:

“He said the county needs to create economic opportunities here instead of sending people to commute to jobs in other communities. He noted Livingston County will remain a bedroom community, but "we can become the best damn community around,” according to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.

I have wanted to comment on the situation on the hospital since I read about it, but this is my first opportunity. People were able to have their children born in the county for 82 years, but no longer. Does that even qualify as bedroom community anymore?

I covered the hospital in 2003 when it opened its $3 million birthing center renovation. I also wrote the story in May 2002 when it changed its name from McPherson Hospital, the name it had when it opened in 1928. I got a glimpse of how little the leadership at Saint Joseph Mercy care about the community.

The McPherson family settled Howell in 1836, but you will be hard pressed to find the once abundant name on anything in the city, other than a small street. Many long-time community members were upset at the name change because so many people had participated in the fundraising drive to establish and expand the hospital.

The McPherson family deeded their ancestral home on Michigan Avenue - site of the present day Banker’s Square and the former McPherson State Bank - to the city for a hospital that opened with 18 beds in 1928. When the need arose for a new hospital, a 10-acre site at the present location was purchased for $10,000 from the McPherson estate in 1954.

A fundraising campaign began in November of 1954 with the goal of raising $254,000. When the campaign ended in April of 1955, $789,000 had been raised from every segment of the community.

Ground was broken on the present hospital on July 15, 1956, and on Jan. 4, 1958 the 75-bed hospital opened for business. In 1990 the hospital underwent a $15.5 million expansion and renovation project.

The bottom line is to move forward we need forward thinking leadership.

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