A New Pontiac Rises From The Ashes

Focusing on Change:  Rebranding the City of Pontiac

I recently had the opportunity to attend the City of Pontiac’s business conference.  The day featured presentations from the Mayor, business leaders and comments from several entrepreneurs.

I was fortunate to have been invited to be one of the speakers.

The conference was focused on Pontiac and what it’s doing to attract more business and becoming a destination for families from across the Detroit region.  Additionally, the city is in the process of re-branding itself.   The hope is this approach will enable Pontiac to develop key messages and a brand which appeals to various segments of the region.

Historically, Pontiac’s been known as an automotive enclave and the past home to the Detroit Lions.

Kevin McCormick, serves as the President, Pontiac Black Chamber of Commerce, and was asked by Mayor D. Deidre Waterman to serve on the transition team focused on rebranding the city of Pontiac.  Additionally, McCormick owns Alchemedia Creative, a media company focused on creating content for clients that helps them tell their story their way.

I recently interviewed him for his thoughts regarding Pontiac and its rebranding efforts.

What is the role of the Pontiac Chamber of Commerce?  And what is its role in Pontiac’s revitalization.

I currently serve as President of the Pontiac Black Chamber of Commerce. The goal of our organization is to be the voice of the minority business owner in Pontiac and to advocate on their behalf to improve the state of Black business in Pontiac, and to increase the number, visibility and opportunities of those Black businesses as Pontiac continues its resurgence.

I was honored that the newly elected mayor of Pontiac, Mayor Dr. Deidre Waterman, asked me to serve on the transition team she appointed that is focused on rebranding the city of Pontiac to the public.

There are good things going on in Pontiac.  Please share.

Pontiac as a city has probably suffered longer and deeper than nearly any other city in Michigan – including Detroit. After so many dark years, three emergency managers and its core industry that imploded (automotive), the city is finally beginning to turn around.

The citizens elected a new mayor, Dr. Deidre Waterman – Pontiac’s first female mayor – and she has immediately began focusing on the positive structural elements within the city to move forward. Those structural elements are downtown, neighborhoods, being business friendly and its citizens.

The downtown business district is showing significant activity, with investment in new projects in the downtown area changing the face of downtown and bringing new people to the area. Housing inventory is abundant in Pontiac, much of it very affordable, while there is work to make the city more business friendly. It’s all pinned together by the citizens who live in, and have pride in, Pontiac.

The city is launching a rebranding effort.  What is the core idea and why?

The idea is to take control of the conversation about Pontiac. For so many years, the city had a negative reputation to those who weren’t from Pontiac and had spent very little time here. The rebranding effort changes that conversation to highlight the positive things going on in the city, and the great things that make Pontiac a great place to live, work and have a business.

The Mayor created a committee of enthusiastic business owners and civic leaders to focus on rebranding the city; changing the narrative about the city to local residents, as well as to those from outside the community. Our group is tasked with developing key messages about Pontiac and its positive attributes and sharing those messages with the public through multiple distribution channels.

When does the city plan on rolling it out to the population at-large?  And what are your communication plans?

The roll-out process has already begun. We’ve presented in front of the Pontiac City Council at one of their public meetings, which was also simulcast on the local cable community access channel, which is heavily watched by citizens in Pontiac.

We also have made multiple presentations to civic organizations and other community entities about the new message direction for the city of Pontiac. Those presentations are an effort to inform as many Pontiac residents as possible, down to the individual, about the positive changes taking place in Pontiac.

What is the Mayor’s vision for Pontiac?  Mission?

In a nutshell, the Mayor’s vision for Pontiac, the seat of Oakland County, is for the city to have a strong economic development focus and to be a destination city that is diverse, and an inviting place to visit, work and live. We want people to ‘Discover the Spirit of Pontiac.’

The mission for the city is focused on the city owning its transition, and by owning its transition, being open to all who support working to make the city a better place from its neighborhoods to its downtown.

And how are you going to educate the Metro Detroit area?

The rebranding team is working on developing the key messages that will be used to communicate to the public outside of the Pontiac area. We plan to engage traditional media with those key messages and highlight the activities happening in the city to share with the public. We also have a social media campaign that will engage people who get their information through that distribution channel.

What makes Pontiac different compared to say, ten years ago?

Ten years ago, the signs of an economic decline were happening to Pontiac, but those in charge were ignoring them. General Motors was pulling back and moving jobs to other areas, chipping away at Pontiac’s economic stability. When the economic collapse happened, the city didn’t have a backup plan to sustain itself through the crisis.

Now, after having been through the fire of three emergency managers, a drastic shrinking of city services and support functions that it provides for residents, Pontiac is now leaner and more focused. The newly elected mayor runs the city with few resources but relies on committed citizens and civic organizations to help get things done.

So, despite these challenges, there is an air of hope for the city, its residents and business community.

And, what makes Pontiac a destination for families, visitors and businesses?

Pontiac is working extra hard to be one of the most business friendly places in the metro area. Regulations are being removed or adjusted, fees lowered and opportunities increased to attract more small businesses and entrepreneurs to Pontiac.

As the city continues its recovery, the available housing inventory, including many historical and vintage homes, is inviting to families and couples looking for affordable housing and creates an opportunity to acquire quality real estate at very affordable prices.

What role will entrepreneurs play in redefining Pontiac’s image?  Economic development?

Entrepreneurs have already played a very large role in Pontiac’s resurgence. The business owners in the downtown district have been especially diligent in working to burnish the city’s image and working to develop a downtown “culture” and personality.

There has been significant investment by entrepreneurs in downtown building projects, residential lofts, a shopping market & deli and many retail establishments, including restaurants, coffee shops, and cafes. Many of these businesses were able to hang on through the economic downturn and have been here, leading the way to the bright side of what was once a very dark time for the city.

Entrepreneurs have taken a leadership role in working with the Mayor (who is an entrepreneur herself, having owned an optometry business in Pontiac) and contributing economic development ideas and suggestions to make Pontiac more business friendly and attract new entrepreneurs to do business in the city.

Other thoughts?

Anyone who is a business owner or entrepreneur should take a serious look at starting or moving a business to Pontiac. Right now is one of those “ground floor” opportunities that don’t come along very often. Because of the new, effective leadership of our new Mayor, Dr. Deidre Waterman, the city is moving forward in ways not experienced in nearly a decade. It’s an exciting time to be connected to Pontiac.