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Takeaways from this week's Ann Arbor Economic Development Summit

Ann Arbor Economic Development Summit at Palmer Commons (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)
Ann Arbor Economic Development Summit at Palmer Commons (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – When I first heard about the Economic Development Summit, I knew I wanted to go hear the discussion, not just as the community news producer of All About Ann Arbor, but as a new person to town.  

The city of Ann Arbor organized the event -- which was open to the public -- to start a dialogue between members of government, local business owners and executives, University of Michigan representatives, county officials and members of the Ann Arbor community.

Various topics were covered, including quality of life, cost of living, the impact the University of Michigan has on the community, the impact of local businesses, transportation, affordable housing, and much more.  

Here's what I learned:

Ann Arbor has a strong brand. It's the most-educated city in the United States (Forbes and Wallethub), University of Michigan is one of the top public universities in the country, U of M helps drive the local economy, Ann Arbor has the best public schools in the state, it boasts more than 150 parks, has a low crime rate, ranks high on public safety and is a booming tech hub.

But it is relatively expensive to live here.

Ann Arbor's property taxes are higher than the U.S. average. And only 60 percent of the city pays property taxes. The remaining 40 percent is exempt (partly due to the University of Michigan).  

Because of property taxes and a rise in property values, there is an exodus of Ann Arborites to other towns like Ypsilanti, Dexter and Saline.  

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Group discussions at the Ann Arbor Development Summit (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

A main concern I heard from born-and-raised Townies was not just about young couples and families who can't afford their first home, but aging locals who've lived here for decades and are afraid of being forced out of their homes by rising taxes.

There were also comments made about not just affordable housing (which is a vague term because it changes depending on who you speak with), but low-income or low-cost housing, which many say doesn't exist.  

Habitat for Humanity has had to halt much of its activity in the area because land has become too expensive and potential low-income buyers would not be able to afford to live in one of its homes.

Then came the issue of building high-rises as a response to the cost and demand of housing in Ann Arbor, which surprisingly was only spoken about for a few minutes.  It is a sore subject for locals who want the town to keep its distinct character (and historical buildings that may be put at risk from these projects).  But on the other hand, it clears the way for affordable housing and a potential boom for businesses around these condominiums.

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An infographic on the summit created in real time by an artist (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

A positive moment of the summit was when Mayor Chris Taylor, called for gentrification to end and affordable housing to be tackled.  He later said that Ann Arbor should aim to continue events like this so as many constituencies as possible can get together and engage on a regular basis.

Someone told me that it was probably the first time many of these movers and shakers sat in a room together, and to me that is a sign of progress.  During their final remarks, city officials said they aim to start an Economic Development Commission to continue addressing concerns of local representatives and members of the public. I look forward to following their work if a commission is created, and see who they turn to for insight and counsel.

Were you at the economic summit? Share your takeaways below. 

 


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