In August, Paul Krutko, president and CEO of SPARK, sat down with Mayor John Hieftje to discuss economic opportunity in the Ann Arbor region. Mayor Hieftje assumed office in 2000, and has served as the city’s mayor ever since. The Mayor has led the city through a period of tremendous change, including the worst recession since the 1930s.
Throughout their conversation, Paul and Mayor Hieftje discuss the significant challenges that have faced the city, and Hieftje’s vision for the future of Ann Arbor.
Krutko: What stands out for you as the most significant changes and challenges that Ann Arbor has faced over the last 12 years?
Hieftje: We’ve had to make some cuts. One of the things that helped us get out ahead of the curve was that we reduced the size of city government before the real crunch came, so that we were able to do things in a planned way. We used to have 1,004 employees, now we do the same work with 680. So it’s been significant. That particular change has probably been the biggest thing that’s happened.
Krutko: You’ve led the government here for over a decade, what do you feel have been some of the greatest accomplishments for the city in that time?
Hieftje: Roads and bridges are being fixed. Unprecedented is work going on. There’s an interesting project, it’s almost 120 million dollars, the largest project ever in the city of Ann Arbor. We’re rebuilding a whole half of our sewage treatment plant. And people don’t even know it’s happening because the rate increases have been pretty much inflationary, a little more in the area of two and half to three percent a year. We continue to have one of the lowest water and sewer rates. So we’ve managed to get things done, to keep moving forward despite the recession.
Krutko: Why do you think Ann Arbor is an ideal place for business and talent to locate?
Hieftje: If you take a look at the writings of people like Richard Florida, who talk about the creative economy and cities who are leaders in this area, Ann Arbor has been a leader in this since his first book. We concentrate very much on quality of life issues, and transportation is one of them. You can live in Ann Arbor without a car, you can get around. We’ve expanded the bike lane system by 600% in the last six years. We have tremendous art program offered by both the city and university. You could’ve gone last winter to hear the San Francisco Symphony at Hall Auditorium. A couple weeks later, you could go to hear a symphony from Chicago.
Across that whole range of quality of life issues, Ann Arbor is a very safe city. Ann Arbor is in the top 20% of cities in the United States for safety and will continue to be that way. It just all adds up and I think it makes it a great place to live. If you’re going to have business in your town, people have to want to live there.
Mayor Hieftje goes on to discuss other current events, such as the new parking structure and the recent expansion of Barracuda Networks into the heart of downtown Ann Arbor. Other topics include the high-speed rail and the economic potential it holds for the city. You can listen to the Mayor’s take on these issues and more in the full 19-minute podcast, available at this link.