Why do we need a plan for the future?

In this time of epic economic upheaval, as the Old Economy gives way to the New, there’s no sugar-coating it: To survive, our community must change.

Gone are the days of doing what we’ve done because that’s the way we’ve always done it. To seize the future, we must inspire and innovate, cooperate and consolidate; we must harness and exploit our strengths and assets.

For years, Livingston proudly wore the mantle of the fastest-growing, wealthiest county in Michigan. A commuter’s paradise, Livingston County is located smack dab in the middle of Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing and Flint, in the golden triangle of I-96, U.S. 23 and M-59.

Homes sprung from fields and farms as new residents flocked to the area, and as we built, life began to change in ways we didn’t fully understand.

“Growth is good,” we chanted, and with the growth came tax base that made it easy to live large. Building was our main industry, and build we did.

We built the shopping areas, subdivisions, water treatment plants and schools our burgeoning population demanded. We enjoyed a standard of living many other communities eyed enviously; there was little or no motivation to collaborate because we could afford not to.

Then, the economy collapsed. The building boom — and life as we knew it — went bust.

Today, Livingston finds itself in the same straits as every other county in Michigan, struggling with ever-dwindling resources and deciding a path for its future.

Will Livingston County wait for an economic knight in shining armor, or will it instead seize the reins of its economic destiny?

The stark differences between the Old and New economies demand a different mindset for growth and prosperity.

All we need do is look around to see what’s working:

• Talent-driven, small, entrepreneurial companies are leading the way, creating jobs, prosperity and growth.

• In the marketplace, quality is pushing aside quantity, and it’s demanding knowledge workers, not line workers.

• Innovation and empowerment are overthrowing control and discipline as means to success.

The world has changed course dramatically, and there’s no going back for any of us.

So, what do we do? What’s next?

This plan, developed after a year’s worth of vision sessions, asset identification, community input and just plain work, maps a route forward that builds on our community’s unique assets and talents. It demands that we replace the Old Economy model of success with the New Economy focus on global, knowledge-based industries and entrepreneurship.

But it does much more than that. This plan asks us to also adopt the New Economy mindset in the way we move forward: It demands that public and private leaders collaborate, cooperate and tear down the fences the community can’t afford to maintain any longer.

While this plan focuses on sustaining prosperity, it embraces much more than just fiscal health, evidenced by the active participation of hundreds of people from across Livingston County in its creation.

Gathering to slay sacred cows were business owners and educators, office-holders and librarians, church leaders and civic boosters, township and city officials and residents, each with a particular point of view, many with their own turfs to cede. This is the first plan in the state built on a foundation of broad public participation, and it goes where no plan has gone before.

While we may look at the plan and think of the hard work that lies before us, make no mistake: The hard work began with the first public meeting last year. We’ve taken the first steps to get us onto the path to sustained prosperity; this plan maps out the rest of the route to get us there.

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