A year ago this month, the Greater Farmington Area Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual State of the Cities event at the Holiday Inn & Suites on Hamilton Court in Farmington Hills.
After nearly 12 months of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the 2021 State of the Cities took place Thursday on the Zoom videoconferencing platform. And the Holiday Inn is now closed and on track to become a senior living facility.
Here’s what community leaders had to say during the virtual event.
Mayor Sara Bowman said Farmington saw a 43 percent reduction in serious crime last year. She praised city staff for a range of accomplishments made despite pandemic restrictions:
- three successful elections with a “huge increase” in absent voter ballots
- completion of two major road projects and 14,000 feet of sewer lining in the Bel Aire subdivision
- economic development projects across the city, from GLP Financial’s renovation of Farmington State Savings Bank to facade improvements and a new Tropical Smoothie Cafe at the Worldwide Plaza on Grand River
- redevelopment of the Maxfield Training Center, which Bowman said should be “shovel ready” by the end of this year
- numerous Downtown Development Authority initiatives that included retail events, crowdfunding almost $10,000 for COVID safety supplies, The Syndicate social district, and streetscaping on Oakland Street
The state of Farmington is good, Bowman said, adding, “I have extreme confidence we will be even better in 2021.”
Mayor Vicki Barnett shared a story of “the good, the sad, and the hopeful” in Farmington Hills. While COVID-19 stopped everything in mid-March last year, she said the city was better prepared than most with sanitation sprays and personal protective equipment.
Barnett said 2020 brought a new city manager, Gary Mekjian, new police chief, Jeff King, and new finance director, Tom Skrobola. Accomplishments included:
- decrease in overall crime and 2nd Safest City in Michigan ranking from Munetrix
- redesign of the Public Safety Communications Center, which handles 45,000 9-1-1 calls for Farmington Hills, Farmington, and Franklin
- construction of a 200,000-square-foot Mercedes Benz Financial headquarters at Drake and 12 Mile, and a 124,000-square-foot crash test facility at Nissan North American Technical Center, both expected to open this year
- resurfacing of 14 Mile, Grand River (Haggerty to 10 Mile), and Hathaway (north of Grand River), plus $12 million in local road projects
- construction of The Hawk, a 245,000-square-foot community center expected to open in late spring
Barnett said 2021 will bring changes to local ordinances that encourage business development and the hiring of a Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Director to ensure minority hiring and promote opportunity for all citizens.
“The state of the City of Farmington Hills is bright, welcoming and in great financial health,” she said.
Farmington Public Schools Acting Superintendent Bobbie Hayes Goodrum called the state of the district “amazing” despite mid-March building closures and a switch to online learning. Remote learning continued for all students through the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
Early childhood and special education students returned to classrooms in September, but a November COVID surge halted plans to expand in-person learning. All students have had the in-person option since last month, Goodrum said. They’re split into groups and alternate face-to-face and remote learning.
Strict mitigation measures include requiring masks for everyone, frequent sanitizing and hand-washing, and trifold desk partitions. Goodrum said the current set-up allows for six feet of social distancing in the majority of classrooms and has helped the district avoid classroom and building closures.
“Many families want us to be full-time, five days a week, but because our mitigation has been so successful, this will remain in place,” she said.
“Our students are making progress,” Goodrum added. “The face of education has changed, and we haven’t missed a beat.”
Executive Director Connor Osborn said the Greater Farmington Area Chamber has lost some members, but is retooling to provide even better service. The biggest change, he said, is adopting a “Five Pillars” strategy with goals for membership, marketing and outreach, programming, leadership, and operations.
Events canceled by the pandemic included a golf outing and the annual dinner and awards ceremony. Osborn said organizers hoped to hold December’s Holly Days in person, but had to move it online. A video showcased gift ideas from Chamber members and tree lighting at the Governor Warner Mansion.
While the Chamber canceled major events in 2020, Osborn said referral networking groups have increased by 159 percent. Members represent 25 industries. He said the Bunkers and Bogeys golf outing, annual dinner, and Holly Days will return in-person this year, if conditions allow.