Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter said Thursday that the state of the city is "getting stronger" and there are many reasons to be optimistic about its future.
As part of his State of the City Address at , Coulter said he believes the worst of the economic challenges are over and that the city is poised to prosper from the economic recovery that is just beginning.
Hosted in the industrial setting of the distillery, around 100 people joined to listen as the mayor discussed the city's strengths, challenges, outlook for the future and plans to lead the city forward - including a new initiative he announced that aims to create an environment for businesses to flourish in Ferndale.
'A community in the truest sense of the word'
Coulter thanked residents for their support and also praised fellow council members, police and fire officers and city staff. Of , he said, "If we on council did one thing right last year, it was hiring April."
He described the city as a "community in the truest sense of the word" where people "roll up their sleeves" to help out during power outages or in ventures like the .
Though the community has been tested with unemployment issues, falling property values and decreased tax revenue, Coulter said the unemployment rate has fallen from 13 percent two years ago to 8.2 percent in December and the city is getting safer with "part one FBI crimes" down 12 percent in the last year.
"At a time when the economy and the increased activity downtown could have actually led to more crime, we’re seeing just the opposite," Coulter said.
Other positive news highlighted included the downtown area's vacancy rate of less than 6 percent, the city's balanced budget, and cost-savings partnerships such as contracting animal control services through the county last year.
Vacancy rate down, new businesses up
Coulter said that although the city will continue to cut costs, growth is what leads to long-term success.
In addition to highlighting some of the city's business "success stories" such as , and , Coulter outlined a plan for new business growth including efforts such as the new - "because you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression with a business owner," he said.
"We’re determined to change the mindset of local government from one of being the enforcer of rules and regulations to one of being a problem solver – helping people prosper in our city," he said.
Coulter said in the last six months alone, the city has seen more than 210,000 square feet of manufacturing space get leased and said the percentage of vacant industrial space has gone down from more than 25 percent last year to just more than 10 percent now. He said more than 60 businesses opened or expanded in Ferndale last year.
New initiative targets business growth
Coulter also announced a new initiative during his speech that will help foster business growth in the city. The Mayor’s Business Council will be an advisory group intended as a way for local business executives, government officials and educational leaders to work together to help create an environment for businesses – and jobs - to flourish in the city.
The council - which he said will be a "sounding board for public policy decisions" - will also provide input in the development of the city’s first comprehensive economic development strategy.
Coulter said Ferndale is getting more diverse, and is continuing to attract a higher-than-average number of younger people who represent the city's future. He said SEMCOG also projects a population growth in Ferndale of 5.4 percent by 2040, which is significantly higher than the expected growth of Southeast Michigan as well as Oakland County as a whole.
"In Ferndale, we’re now in a position to be leaders well into the future because we’re standing on solid ground today, and we’re focused like a laser on creating a community that meets the needs of those future residents and businesses who will someday call Ferndale their home, too," Coulter said. "I’m excited to be a part of it, and I’m thankful that you’re all a part of it, too."
Community leaders react to speech
Here's what some people who attended the event had to say about the mayor's speech.
- Councilman Mike Lennon: "I think Dave is right on target. Ferndale is a community that has vision. We don't think in the past, we don't think in the present, we look to the future."
- Scott Maloney, owner of : "It was nice. It was really positive."
- Councilman Dan Martin: "He painted a very realistic and positive outlook for Ferndale," Martin said. "We live in a great town and I think the mayor was able to highlight that tonight."
- Jeannie Davis, president of the Ferndale Seniors group: "I thought it was very forward thinking," she said, adding that she appreciated the mayor's comments on diversity. "Our diversity and our open-mindedness is what gives us strength. I never thought of that before."
- Councilwoman Melanie Piana: "I think he struck the right balance of looking at some of the financial issues the city is facing and also puting the city on the future path of more growth," she said, adding that the city staff is very influential. "We have a fantastic team."
- Jeff King, owner of the : "My experience in Ferndale has been nothing but positive so far," he said. "It's a great time to be here and we are ecstatic we got in when we did."
- Cristina Sheppard-Decius, executive director: "I agree with all of it. I think Ferndale is definitely on the cusp of exponentially growing."