The Livingston Regional Investment Awards Power Lunch played to a full house at Cleary University’s Johnson Center on Friday, April 28, and highlighted many positive economic drivers throughout the county. After a quick introduction by Phil Santer of Ann Arbor SPARK/ Livingston Economic Development, and Pam McConeghy of the Brighton Chamber of Commerce, recipients were called up and given their awards by state Rep. Hank Vaupel, state Rep. Lana Theis, and state Sen. Joe Hune.
Award winners included Adam Merkel of Diamonds Steakhouse revival, and a mini-empire that also includes Cello’s and the Silver Pig in Howell; Joe Parker, who relocated his C&B machinery to the county, and renovated several buildings in downtown Howell; Frances Brougham, the new owner of the much-expanded Buon Gusto in Brighton; Greg Sibley of the ever-expanding Eberspacher in Brighton; John O’Malley of St. Joseph-Livingston; Michael Perry of Wellbridge, which recently built a beautiful new facility in Pinckney; and Robert Bretz of Tribar in Howell. Even MDOT received an award, with Jack Rick remarking to much laughter that MDOT has never gotten an award from anyone, so they were quite honored.
Each award winner then took a seat on stage and had five minutes to outline their award-winning projects or businesses. The clear crowd-favorite was Rick Todd, who, rather than launching into a detailed explanation of Pinckney’s Cyber Training Institute, gave an upbeat and impassioned report of the state of Pinckney schools and its rise from a deficit district to one that is leading the way in applied technology training, partnerships and careers.
During a brief Q&A afterwards, one timely question was posed by Rick Beaudin of ReMax Real Estate was whether any of these companies were hiring Livingston County residents. The universal answer was “no.”
Health-care representatives indicated that they tried to hire local as best they could, and were successful to some extent in finding the skills they needed in a local workforce that has been commuting outside of the county for work; however, the manufacturing companies had a different story to tell.
Despite popular sentiment that Livingston County is a downtrodden, rural, second cousin to neighboring Oakland and Washtenaw counties, the fact is Livingston is the wealthiest county in Michigan, with low unemployment.
“This is a well-off area,” Sibley of Eberspacher responded. “We have a hard time filling entry-level jobs.”
Also lacking are the technical skill sets needed for these positions, a gap that county schools like Pinckney are trying to alleviate.