Oakland County will revive a once-scuttled wireless Internet access initiative, open a new business incubator for alternative energy companies and add neighboring Macomb County into the regional economic development partnership it formed two years ago, County Executive L. Brooks Patterson announced Tuesday.
Patterson told a crowd about 400 at his annual State of the County address at the Marriott Centerpoint on Tuesday that the regional Economic Growth Alliance that Oakland organized two years ago would add Macomb to its collaboration with Genesee, St. Clair and Livingston counties, growing its influence to nearly 3 million regional residents.
“This presents an historic opportunity to foster stronger ties between our two counties and build upon our strengths to move Oakland, Macomb, the region, and for that matter the state, forward in creating desperately needed jobs,” Patterson said.
The county also recently reached an access agreement with Frankenmuth-based Air Advantage LLC to create access Internet access by the fall in downtown Oxford, Holly and Clarkston, as part of a newly-reincarnated Wireless Oakland initiative. The county wireless Internet access could extend to up to 10 small city or village downtown areas by late 2013.
“It (the original Wireless Oakland) was a well-developed and ambitious project that unfortunately fell victim to the economy. Private sector investors who had been lined up to fund the project decided not to take the risk in an economy that was already in a free-fall. A decision that disappointed me, but one I certainly understood,” patterson said.
“Well, we’re back with a less ambitious effort than before, but nonetheless one I think that many communities are going to be delighted with.”
David Simmet, vice president of operations for Air Advantage, said the company last September received about $32.3 million in federal grants and another $31.9 million in loans under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to provide high-speed Internet access to underserved areas.
The loan portion of the funding will be repaid out of broadband access fees from private users. Simmet said the access agreement with Oakland includes use of its signal towers near several rural downtowns in exchange for the free use of wirelesss Internet.
“We may look at access agreements for other (more populous) areas of the county, but we would have to do that separately from the funding and take a look at the business model for it,” Simmet said.
The county also expects to roll out a new “cloud computing” network access system that will allow local municipal governments to directly access some county records online, as well as play a facilitation role in a planned Southeast Michigan Advanced Energy Efficiency Center for Excellence – also known as Cleantech – an alternative energy business incubator launching this year in Troy.
Patterson, 72, also said Tuesday he intends to seek re-election to a sixth term as executive in November 2012, joking with attendees at the event that he is not ready to retire and “play parlor games and write nasty editorials about Professor (former Gov. Jennifer) Granholm.” He also said after the presentation that he is committed to too many ongoing programs to retire.
“We have been starting so many multiple-year programs like Medical Main Street and even Emerging Sectors (the economic development program) that I want to give them a few more years to develop before I’m ready to move on,” he said.