Michigan’s second-largest county has come “roaring back” from the Great Recession.
That was longtime Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s message at his annual state of the county speech Wednesday night.
“The state of Oakland County is strong! Amazingly strong. Vibrant,” Patterson said.
He touted the county’s unemployment rate, which soared to nearly 15% in the depths of the recession. Now, it’s dipped below 5%.
Patterson credited some of his own initiatives for the economic recovery. He says the county saw more than three quarters of a billion dollars in business investment in the first half of 2015, with $352 million of direct investment from foreign companies.
Patterson also touted a project to expand and “modernize” I-75 in Oakland County, with plans to add extra lanes to the highway he calls the county’s “main street.”
“I-75, the busiest expressway in Michigan, becomes a parking lot at rush hour. We need relief, and we’re going to get it,” said Patterson. He praised the Michigan Department of Transportation for “greenlighting” the project, which is set to begin this summer.
Patterson said MDOT might also make that stretch of I-75 a “connected highway,” meaning it would install “smart” infrastructure that could communicate with vehicles. But those plans are still preliminary.
Patterson also vowed to focus on the county’s future workforce. To that end, he pitched the idea of up to six weeks of paid parental leave to both new moms and dads, in addition to the benefits already offered to county workers.
“It’s all about recruiting talented employees,” said Patterson, drawing laughter when he added: “I think I’m becoming a liberal in my old age.” But he says county commissioners will need to work out the details.
The 77-year-old Patterson, a Republican, also announced that he’ll seek a seventh term this year.