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Southfield-based company helps local governments to share services

As officials at all levels of government look at sharing services to save money, companies such as ImageSoft, Inc. in Southfield have the goods to show them how.

ImageSoft is hosting a summit on the topic of shared services June 8 in Lansing. Oakland County Deputy Executive Robert Daddow will be keynote speaker and share Oakland's success stories of shared services in a presentation titled: "Shared Services – Politics Versus Reality."

While fire and police and similarly high profile departments are often the targets of consolidation, the focus of ImageSoft's Enterprise Content Management software is documents and work flow-labor intensive, costly and often inefficient areas that come with serving the public.

Scott Bade, president of ImageSoft, a 15-year-old company recognized as one of Metropolitan Detroit’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For and winner of the 2010 Best Fit Integrator Award from the Center for Digital Government, says the software is ideal for human resources, billing and other financial areas, permitting and even dog licensing.

The software doesn't eliminate paper but cuts it and the processes that go with it way back. Data entry duties are saved, the need for multiple servers can be eliminated, as can the space and IT staff they require. The idea is to eliminate redundancy and cut costs without sacrificing quality of services, he says.

The software lets communities share data collection and storage, hardware, and expenses, and allows for processes to be centralized and knowledge shared.

"The software in general is going to save money because it makes your staff 20-30 percent more efficient, Bade says. "Unfortunately in a lot of cities the adoption rate is pretty low…A lot of that is changing because of shared services."

Shared services is not a new concept, but recently more and more bodies of government are taking a hard look at it as they look to slash budgets, especially as the proposed state spending plan needs to make up a $2 billion shortage. Gov. Rick Snyder is asking communities to put the shared services concept into practice as a money saver.

Bade says Oakland County is a prime example of sharing services successfully. In addition to Oakland County using ImageSoft, Washtenaw County is using it to share services with Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. With the system they share storage, a server, and disaster recovery. Grand Traverse County uses the software to collaborate with Traverse City as do cities on the west side of the state, Bade says. ImageSoft also provides similar software solutions for banking, health care, courts, insurance and other organizations with vast amounts of document requirements.

Separately, cities in Macomb County have banded together to talk consolidation, and other cities are combining libraries, police dispatch, and other areas.

The summit is free and is geared toward state, county and local government officials of all levels and areas of expertise. It will be held from 7:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. at the James B. Henry Center for Executive Development and will include continental breakfast and lunch.  For more information or to register go to
www.imagesoftinc.com/government-summit-2011.html

Source: Scott Bade, president ImageSoft Inc.
Writer: Kim North Shine

Automation Alley to open International Business Center

Automation Alley will open a new International Business Center at its Troy headquarters April 28, providing a place for companies around the world to bring business -- and opportunities for local companies -- to southeast Michigan.

The center, located on Bellingham off 16 Mile Road between Rochester Road and John R, will provide a three private offices, three Skype-enabled conference rooms, an open office area, a private entrance, and high-tech equipment. Access to high definition video conferencing will be provided by LifeSize and its local partner, Insight Technologies.

There is also a three-person international business staff dedicated to providing a wide range of assistance and information to international guests interested in conducting business in Southeast Michigan and local companies looking to connect with the visitors. 

"The new expansion will allow international companies to become familiar with the open business culture, technical workforce and quality of life in Southeast Michigan. We anticipate that once they become established, their business will grow and new jobs will be created," says Ken Rogers, Automation Alley executive director.

Kelly Kozlowski, Automation Alley's Business Accelerator client coordinator, says the cost of the 3,200-square-foot expansion was $394,800 and came through Urban Development grants from the U.S Department of Housing with support from Congressman Gary Peters and U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. The expansion was completed by Bloomfield Hills-based Synergy Group, Inc..

"Automation Alley has done 13 trade missions since 2001 and in that time we've continued to strengthen the international business component of our services here…This was the next logical step," Kozlowski says. "We're able to make a lot of connections for companies located here and companies looking to relocate to the region."

More specifically, users of the International Business Center get access to Automation Alley's 1,000 member companies, its training seminars and information sessions, use of the conference rooms and atrium for meetings with clients, investors and consultants and a copy, print and fax center as well a professional services information and pre- and post- export trade mission support as well as connections to county governments and economic development partners in the city of Detroit and surrounding eight-county region.

Automation Alley is Michigan's largest technology business association. The nonprofit helps drive growth and economic prosperity through workforce and business development projects covering a wide array of technologies from a various industries around the world. Automation Alley work stretches from Detroit, Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties across to Genesee, Livingston, Monroe and St. Clair counties.

Sources: Ken Rogers, Automation Alley executive director; Kelly Kozlowski, business  accelerator client coordinator for Automation Alley
Writer: Kim North Shine


Michigan Municipal League survey says local govts know how to share services

A survey by the Michigan Municipal League (MML) says local governments around the state have taken to sharing services such as police, fire, library, waste collection, and more.

There were 129 responses from communities to the League's survey, which was conducted at the request of Gov. Rick Snyder. The governor asked the MML to attempt to determine how many municipalities have already headed down the path of shared services.

The survey, according to the MML, makes it clear that sharing services is not a novelty and it questions Gov. Snyder's assumption that a failure to share services has led to inefficiency and a waste of tax dollars.

Gov. Snyder has plans to cut state revenue sharing to local governments and has challenged them to cut waste, by employing such things as sharing services.

The survey found 640 examples, many of them in metro Detroit, of communities sharing services, saving tax dollars and increasing efficiency. Separately, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments has more than 249 examples of locally shared services, including more than 40 that have formed joint recreation authorities. Several have created recycling authorities.

Rather than decrease the revenue funneled from the state to local governments, the MML is asking the governor and legislature to change two state laws, the Urban Cooperation Act and Public Act 312, both of which it considers roadblocks that make it too expensive for communities to share services.

Source: Matt Bach, director of communications, Michigan Municipal League
Writer: Kim North Shine

Macomb County communities form task force to talk combining municipal services

Five Macomb County municipalities and the county of Macomb are the first members of a task force formed to research and implement new ways to combine municipal services.

MACRO, the Macomb Area Communities for Regional Opportunities, includes officials from Clinton and Shelby townships, the cities of Sterling Heights, Warren, and Utica, and Macomb County.

Combined, the municipalities make up more than half of Macomb County's population, and some have already begun discussions about sharing public services prior to the official formation of MACRO, which has met twice to date.

Among the areas of consolidation being discussed as local planners try to avoid eliminating or compromising services are police and fire, libraries, parks and recreation, building and inspection, and information and technology. There is also talk of combining employee training, facility and equipment maintenance, and of forming purchasing cooperatives.

It is the kind of consolidation encouraged by Gov. Rick Snyder in his State of the State address and follows up on a shared services agreement already struck with Shelby and Rochester.

More communities are expected to join MACRO, according to a written announcement of its formation. MACRO will meet at least monthly to discuss consolidation.

Source: City of Sterling Heights, Sue Giallombardo
Writer: Kim North Shine


Virtual 8 Mile shows sky-high views of the 3D street-level

Technology and marketing are converging in a push to promote business, transportation, and commercial development along 8 Mile.

If Virtual 8 Mile, an application developed by the Eight Mile Boulevard Association and Plymouth-based Luna Tech Designs, goes as planned the 27-mile corridor can be viewed on a 3D virtual interface using Google Earth.

Ideally, visitors to the site can zoom in on member businesses, which also will get Google priority listings during searches for businesses of their type.

The $5,000 in funding for the application came from the Michigan Dept of Transportation.

Virtual 8 Mile will also show visitors development possibilities and real estate opportunities, including details and photos of available land and property, along the stretch of road that cuts through Wayne and Oakland counties.

In addition, the site shows improvement projects, including facade renovations and median gardens, and public transportation routes and other information that can make patronizing a business or starting one easier.

For a business such as the Belmont Shopping Center, which now is viewable by visitors, "it is another way to promote an existing tenant mix and is also a business attraction tool for vacancies," says Tami Salisbury, executive director of the 8 Mile Boulevard Association.

The 13 communities bordering the Eight Mile corridor, which spans Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, stand to gain from increased exposure, Salisbury says.

"It really is a snapshot of 8 Mile, what's going on there and the potential that is there," Salisbury says.

In a larger sense, she says, the project helps the association in its mission to change the reputation, accurate or not, that 8 Mile Road is a has-been.

"It's equally as important to change the mental landscape as it is to change the physical landscape," Salisbury says. "We are changing mental perceptions people have of 8 Mile by showing them these physical transformations."

Source: Tami Salisbury, executive director, Eight Mile Boulevard Association
Writer: Kim North Shine

Woodward Avenue gets 50 new signs, All American Road designation

More than 18 months of regional planning and state-local cooperation culminates this week with the installation of federal All American Road signs along a 27-mile stretch of Woodward Avenue.

A total of 50 signs worth $45,000 will be installed as part of the 2009 All American Road project, a U.S. Dept of Transportation program that awards funding for roadways deemed worthy of distinction and therefore dollars that make the roadways more appealing, useful, recognizable and memorable. Many such roadways around the country have been deemed scenic parkways, historic routes and such. The majority of Woodward signs will be installed this week by the Michigan Dept of Transportation (MDOT) with a few not coming until spring.

Royal Oak-based WA3, the Woodward Avenue Action Association, is the local administrator of the program and worked with MDOT, all cities along the route, and DTE on the best placement and process for the sign installation

"The intent is to really bring awareness that this is an exclusive and important designation so that when visitors are here they say, 'Wow I've seen that in other parts of America,' and they understand this is an important part of history," says Heather Carmona, executive director of WA3.

"They're very different signs, not your typical MDOT road sign...It was a long process, 18-20 months. It was very challenging to get these different signs, but MDOT was very accommodating," Carmona says. "We were able to do something that was outside of the box and get something that was eye catching and appealing and safe."

A prototype sign is located at McDonald's on Woodward near 13 Mile.

Of the 50 signs, 23 will be installed in Detroit. The remainder run north through Oakland County communities.

Source: Heather Carmona, executive director of the Woodward Avenue Action Association
Writer: Kim North Shine

Streetscape grants from Royal Oak's WA3 help unify Woodward Corridor

Five cities and communities with Woodward Avenue as their spine now have money to spend on projects to make their street fronts more appealing, inviting and useful.

The money, $53,000 split among them, comes from the
Woodward Avenue Action Association (WA3) via Federal Highway Administration Scenic Byway funds. WA3, a Royal Oak-based economic and community development organization with the mission of improving the visual, economic, function and historical character of the 27-mile long avenue, hands out the grants as part of its Streetscape Grant Program.

The 2010 recipients run from Detroit north through Oakland County and up to Berkley. In 2009, WA3 awarded $118,000 in mini grants.

"We're looking for areas that can enhance Woodward as an entire corridor and also help communities fulfill their individual goals," says Heather Carmona, executive director of WA3. The projects are not only aesthetic but practical, she says.

And the added bonus is that the grants bring federal tax dollars back home. Woodward Avenue, a history-rich and storied thruway, is designated an All-American Road, making it eligible for the funding.

The allocations were:
  • City of Berkley - $8,000 for median improvements
  • Ferndale Downtown Development Authority - $10,000 for Wayfinding Kiosks, high-tech, outdoor directories
  • Arden Park-East Boston Historic District - $7,000 for historic entry grates
  • The Park District (between 6 and 8 Mile roads) - $5,000 for beautification
  • South Oakland county - $13,000 for median improvements
The program provides a simplified process to generate physical improvements for Woodward as a connected region by celebrating and promoting the byway and the communities it runs through.

Source: Heather Carmona, executive director, Woodward Avenue Action Association
Writer: Kim North Shine

Oakland Chamber Network unites county's biggest business boosters

The launch of a new, options-friendly website for the Oakland Chamber Network last week furthers the intention of the organization to have its 29 chamber members work together rather than compete.


In the spirit of regional cooperation, the members of the Oakland Chamber Network commissioned the new site, which has information about each chamber, its events, its programs, its Facebook and Twitter page links and more. The network also hosts an annual meeting that's open to its members as well as chambers or interested parties from anywhere.


"We think this plants the seeds that will encourage more and more cooperation in Oakland County and beyond its boundaries," says Michele Hodges, president of the Troy Chamber of Commerce and past president of the network. 


The website is the affirmation of the network's mission for chambers to work together to attract businesses, events, conventions and more to Oakland County, even if that means directing potential business to a community other than their own.


"In the past chambers have been relatively territorial, but we know our main job is to serve the customer. So if that means the customer is better-served elsewhere, absolutely we want to make sure that customer gets the best service," Hodges says.


The partnership also gives members access to shared resources and information to help them do their jobs and ideally bring economic prosperity both inside and outside of Oakland County.



Source: Michele  Hodges, president, Troy Chamber of Commerce and immediate past president, Oakland Chamber Network

Writer: Kim North Shine


Wyandotte arts center set to open this week

The Wyandotte Regional Arts Center will open up its doors to the public this week with a fundraiser and its first tenant.

"It's happening," says Patt Slack, one of the organizers behind the project and owner of River's Edge Gallery.

The 
Downriver Council for the Arts is moving its offices into the historic Masonic Temple in Wyandotte. It will also host a fundraiser for the center, the Bootleggers Bash, at 6 p.m. Saturday.

The city renovated the three-story building at 81 Chestnut St. last year. The idea is to create an incubator of sorts for artists and others of the creative persuasion. It would serve as a central base for early stage artists in the downriver area.

"We're taking applications right now," says Nancy Pitel, executive director of the
Downriver Council for the Arts, adding they can be sent to 81 Chestnut, Wyandotte, MI, 48192.

The basement and first floors of the structure will become a place for visual artists, while the second and third floors, which house a stage, would be renovated to facilitate performance arts. There are a total of four studio spaces that range in size.

"We will take 2-3 artists in one studio," Pitel says.

The structure date backs to the 19th Century and originally served as a Masonic temple. More recently it was home to the Church of Many Miracles. Wyandotte purchased the building at 81 Chestnut St., just outside of downtown, in 2007.

Source: Patt Slack, owner of River's Edge Gallery
Writer: Jon Zemke

Rochesters look at consolidating some city services

Two cities with practically the same name are trying to push the envelope on how to play efficiently in Metro Detroit.

The city councils of Rochester and Rochester Hills will hold a joint meeting on Monday, June 15 to talk about ways the two municipalities can save taxpayer money by enacting a more regional approach to doing business. It looks like a smart move in this time of tough economies and ever shrinking budgets.

"We all have to evaluate things differently," says Bryan Barnett, mayor of Rochester Hills. "In the era we are in now we have to find ways to share more things."

The two cities already share library and senior citizen services. They're now looking at further collaboration, like mutual aide agreements and big ticket purchases, such as street sweepers or road salt.

"Some of these things we could go in on together," Barnett says.

Other local communities have talked about operating more regionally recently, such as consolidating Farmington and Farmington Hills or creating a Downriver Area Fire Authority. Both of those ideas floundered but state officials have continued to push for creating efficiencies through regionalism.

The special joint meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm, 1005 Van Hoosen Road. For information, call (248) 656-4600.

Source: Bryan Barnett, mayor of Rochester Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke

Taylor, Belleville, Ypsilanti join Aerotropolis development efforts

Wayne County's Aerotropolis initiative is gaining momentum now that three new municipalities have signed on by signing big checks.

Taylor, Belleville and Ypsilanti have joined the regional corporation that will develop about 60,000 acres of land from Detroit Metro Airport to Willow Run Airport. They each paid $25,000 to become part of the Aerotropolis Development Corporation, which heads up the Aerotropolis initiative.

The Aerotropolis is expected to create 64,000 new jobs, $10 billion in economic impact and millions in tax revenue in the area around Metro and Willow Run airports. Major economic development incentives are planned to help develop the Aerotropolis area.

Metro Airport is expected to become one of Metro Detroit's main economic engines of the 21st Century because it has lots of room to grow in the vacant or unused land around it. Most other major metro airports have already been extensively developed and have little room to grow.

Source: Wayne County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Smaller 601 Forest gets big approval in Ann Arbor

After a long wait and an almost as lengthy debate, the 601 Forest high-rise project is moving forward in Ann Arbor.

Excerpt:

It is over yet? Has the Ann Arbor City Council finally passed judgment on 601 Forest yet? Yes? Finally…

The City Council approved the smaller version of the 601 Forest high-rise on development. Call it a downsized victory for the proponents of vertical, urban growth in Ann Arbor.

The 'adjusted' version of 601 Forest is 14 stories tall. The developers, Hughes Properties and Omena Real Estate Investments, originally planned for of 26. They also wanted to build 1,100 beds in 342 units. The new plan calls for 150-175 rooms with 570-610 beds. All of those beds will be marketed toward students at the nearby University of Michigan.

Read the rest of the story here.

Ypsilanti's biz districts prove too attractive for former Ann Arbor businesses

Ann Arbor's downtown has always been a hot spot to do business, but now Ypsilanti's city centers are generating some heat of their own.

Excerpt:

A number of businesses that once called Ann Arbor home but struggled with rising rents are finding safe harbor in Ypsilant’s historic central business districts.

Among the refugees are longtime Tree Town staples like Fantasy Attic Costumes and Ann Arbor Alive Radio. Old World Bakery also recently made the move to Ypsilanti.

"Their most famous thing is the Ann Arbor-style cheesecake, which can now be found in downtown Ypsilanti," says Brian Vosburg, executive director of Ypsilanti’s Downtown and Depot Town development authorities.

Read the rest of the story here.

Motorists encouraged to explore the detour in Southwest Detroit

With a large chunk of I-75 closed down for the massive Gateway project, Southwest Detroit neighborhoods are banding together to encourage motorists to explore their attractions and restaurants.

Excerpt:

Vittoria Katanski, marketing director for Southwest Detroit Business Association, says that the closure of I-75 has affected the area's 170 restaurants, 35 bakeries and 56 specialty food stores, and that its production was a way for the area's community development corporations to help.

"They're trying some unique things -- like Armando's adding downtown delivery -- on their own, to get people in here," she says. "That’s been positive."

Kattanski says that regional neighborhood cooperation is key to the map's impact. "In Southwest Detroit, we're working really well together," she says. "We're hoping that other people see the impact of doing regional marketing."

Read the entire article here.

Farmington/Farmington Hills continue discussions about merging services

Leaders from Farmington and Farmington Hills may have set aside talks of merging the two municipalities but all is not lost yet for advocates of regionalism and economic efficiency.

"We're still talking about advancing shared services," says Vincent Pastue, city manager for Farmington.

Among the services the two cities are looking to share are programs for seniors, after-school and cultural arts. However, both government units already work together on all of those things.

The latest round of talks about consolidating the Farmingtons began in recent months when a study by Plante Moran made a strong recommendation for merger. Officials from both cities jumped on the idea and launched investigations, but differences in costs and budgets derailed progress... for now.

The case for merger, however, remains strong. Farmington Hills would have increased its overall tax base, adding $4.5 million in taxes and 10,000 people to its $80 million budget and population of 82,000. Jurisdictional lines would have been simplified, government streamlined and redundancy eliminated.

Farmington Hills would add a badly needed downtown, instead of trying to build a new one in a cornfield. Not to mention it would improve the city's image by becoming one with what Money Magazine called the 55th-best community to live in America last year.

Farmington residents would enjoy a tax cut from 14.4 mills to 10.22 mills. Harnessing the resources of the much larger Farmington Hills would also allow for more development in the mostly developed older suburb.

Source: Vincent Pastue, city manager for Farmington
Writer: Jon Zemke

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