On the Road to Ecomomic Recovery

As the state’s largest and most recognizable city, Detroit generally garners the spotlight and receives the most attention for its turnaround efforts.

However, another city making a move is Pontiac. This city of nearly 60,000, located in Oakland County,is long-known for being the home of various GM facilities and the former home for the Detroit Lions.

Now, this city is undergoing a transformation and is positioning itself for the future.

After three emergency managers and several years of being under the state’s oversight, financial control was given back to the mayor and city council in 2016.  And since coming out of state oversight, Pontiac is on the move and appears to headed in the right direction.

However, I wanted to hear for myself.

This past Tuesday, I was invited to attend the State of the City address and introduce Mayor Deirdre Waterman.  Before introducing the mayor, I shared my perspective, but really wanted to hear about the transformational changes and future plans for Pontiac.

Mayor Waterman’s leadership, in partnership with City Council, is the driving force behind  key changes now being implemented.

An ophthalmologist by profession and a long-time business owner who operated Holloway Eye Care in Pontiac for over 30 years, Dr. Waterman was elected in 2013 and is the first African American woman to lead Pontiac in that capacity.  In her first three years in office, an Emergency Manager was in place.  However, for the last twelve months, financial oversight and control have been returned to the city’s leadership.

This year’s theme, “Prospects and Promises for Pontiac” , highlighted three areas of focus and opportunities

  • Pontiac’s transformation,
  • Successes of partnerships and renewed community engagement, and
  • Vision and plans to continue city progress.

Like Detroit, there have been infrastructural issues resulting from years of financial challenges and neglect.  However, residents there have seen major road improvements and reconstruction along major thoroughfares including Saginaw, Paddock and Franklin.  Additionally, the city is implementing a LED conversion initiative which will improve its lighting grid across all neighborhoods and communities and the mayor proudly pointed out approximately 700 blighted structures have been torn down.

Waterman stated these projects highlight the city’s commitment to safety and to building a welcoming community for everyone.

During its first fiscal year (which ends 6/30/17) without an EM, Pontiac made tremendous progress.  Economic revitalization in Pontiac has gained significant momentum which has contributed to overall economic success relative to past years.  For example, Pontiac is beginning to experience financial stabilization while focusing on economic and community development.  Waterman stated the city is projected to have increased revenues in FY ’18 and beyond.  In fact, Pontiac looks to have a general fund balance of $10.7 million at the end of FY ’18.

And according to the mayor, the total FY’17-’18 budget is approximately $79 million which represents a $6 million increase (versus year ago) with incremental dollars being invested into the new programs, road projects and maintaining existing services.   Total revenue is expected to increase by 2%–further evidence Pontiac is on the road to economic recovery.

Increased revenue streams will enable Pontiac to push towards potential growth longer-term  while providing the amenities of a livable, sustainable community, including public safety and safe recreational opportunities for children.

How has Pontiac started down the path of economic recovery?

Through achieving tentative agreements with various stakeholders and the settlement with retirees regarding retiree health and a consent agreement to demolish the historic Pontiac Silverdome for future development, Pontiac now is on the path of enhanced financial stability.

Pontiac has been aggressively been pursuing entrepreneurial and small business development and wants the city to be a destination for budding and existing business owners–thereby, increasing revenue opportunities.

According to Waterman, “This budget reflects the city’s needs and supports initiatives to enhance growth that will provide a livable, sustainable environment for a culturally and economically diverse community.”  She continues, “As the city emerges from a period of retrenchment and rediscovery, we can be guided by a new collective vision for the stability of our future.”