Conversations on Economic Opportunity with Bob Guenzel
Bob Guenzel, retired Washtenaw County Administrator, is currently a member of Ann Arbor SPARK’s board of directors. Paul Krutko recently sat down with Bob Guenzel to discuss the past, present, and future of the Ann Arbor region’s economy.
Paul: I’ve heard you talk often about the importance of building relationships and using those relationships to make life better for citizens. Can you talk a little bit about that, and what’s been your philosophy in terms of leading organizations?
Bob: I’ve figured out, for better, for worse early on when I became administrator, that for me it was about relationships. I said my own personal life vision was using relationships established by government to make life better for our citizens. I pushed that in terms of being county administrator and providing some leadership and facilitation. A lot of these areas, they’re not mandated for any government to take a lead in, whether that’s housing or homelessness or even economic development. The county could sit on its hands and operate and do mandated services. I’ve found that I had some ability to use those relationships I had, my position as county administrator to provide a vision for the future, trying to align the resources to meet that future vision, and in some cases, inspiring people to make that happen. I was very fortunate when I was county administrator that I had the support of the board of commissioners to be more of an activist. And for me, that was really value-added. Operationally, the county government was very important, but the value-add was doing things in the community. I was there so long that I’ve retained some of that credibility in the community, so I attempt to continue to work on areas that I’m interested in.
Paul: When an important initiative is discussed here in the county, one of the first names that everyone says ought to be a part of that is yours. You’re very, very busy but you’re also doing some consulting.
Bob: I’ve done some consulting with some state agencies and a little bit of work, but most of my commitments have been to non-profits and most of that’s volunteer. It’s in areas like human services, housing, provision of health care, economic development, The Ark. I’ve been really active in The Ark, and we see that as a real community asset. I’ve had to say no to some folks.
Paul: I’m glad you didn’t say no to continuing to be a part of SPARK. Given the perspective that you have here let’s look in the other direction. How do you see the Ann Arbor region evolving over the next 10 years, and what are you excited about?
Bob: I think the Ann Arbor region will continue to lead the state in economic development, in terms of recovery from this economy, by that I mean a vibrant, active downtown Ann Arbor, with transportation that connects all of the county and in many ways, a hub for this region. But remember, the other thing about Washtenaw County is we have these other great areas and each of them has a sense of place, whether you’re talking about Saline, Dexter, Chelsea, Milan and certainly the eastern part of the county. We have tremendous opportunities there. I think as we rebound, that Washtenaw County, the Ann Arbor region will just become very important. Our great strength is our diversity and I don’t mean ethnic, I mean just the opportunities here and the choices.
You can listen to the rest of the conversation on SPARK’s website.