Blog: John Petz

John Petz is currently director of real estate and public affairs at Domino's Farms Corporation, a property management and land development company in Ann Arbor Township, Michigan.  In his capacity, he manages land development projects on Domino's Farms' nearly 1,600 acres of property in northeastern Ann Arbor.  He also serves as the public liaison with elected officials and the greater business community.

He has been heavily involved with the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber, including serving as chair of the board of directors in 2011.  He chaired the Chamber's public policy committee in 2008-2009.  During his term on the executive committee of the board, he was instrumental in helping the former Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti community chambers merge into the Regional Chamber in 2010.

He is also actively engaged with the Urban Land Institute, the pre-eminent professional real estate association, including serving on the Michigan Chapter's program committee.

Previously, he served as Southeast Michigan director for former United States Senator E. Spencer Abraham (R-Michigan).  In that capacity he managed strategic outreach in the greater Metro Detroit region and was responsible for constituent relations on transportation, justice and Interior Department matters.

He holds a Masters of Business Administration degree in finance from Walsh College.  He also holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in political science and economics from University of Michigan.

John Petz - Most Recent Posts:

Calling Young Leadership

I had the privilege of serving as the chairman of the board of directors of the Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti Regional Chamber (A2Y Chamber) this past year – a personally rewarding experience.  Since the merger of the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Area Chambers of Commerce in 2010 into the Regional Chamber, we have worked diligently to expand business opportunities for our members; create relevant programming; be an effective and vocal advocate on business policy issues; and blend two distinct organizations into a more efficient operation for our membership.

One of the early initiatives of the board was to create a young professionals group.  We weren't thinking about just social gatherings, but instead a way to engage younger workers to help them be the leaders of tomorrow (or sometimes even today).  We observed that in our fast-paced global world, younger people were not participating in community institutions the same way previous generations had.  We understood that we need to both make the Chamber relevant in the 21st century – an ongoing effort, but also provide more effective opportunities to allow younger workers meaningful engagement.  An additional objective was to introduce this younger generation to some of the traditional civic organizations and the role they have in making our communities the kind of places they are and their place in nurturing their future.

We had a great early champion in this effort in Rebecca Lopez Kriss, a dynamic young leader (who sadly left for Philadelphia to launch her career – but talent retention is a whole other discussion).  As may be expected, some of the initial events were business networking and social focused, but this helped people come together in a relaxed manner (except during the kickball league competitions).  To foster a unique identity, the Chamber branded the group A2Y Converge.  Since then, Bilal Saeed and Barrie Kiser Brown have picked up the reins of leadership – two talented and energetic younger members of the Chamber board (along with some yeoman-like effort from the Chamber staff's Rebecca Woodward).  One of the exciting programming additions this year is a series of intimate meetings with seasoned business leaders to let A2Y Converge members gain insight into issues ranging from career advancement, industry best practices and advancing your cause.  With the multiple demands on people's time, we hope this is a value enhancing experience that people want to invest their time in.

The hope of the Chamber board is that the A2Y Converge initiative helps the younger workers in our community advance their prospects in business and life.  As I think we know, especially in our Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti community, quality of life is defined and enhanced by the passionate engagement of our people.  At the A2Y Chamber, we look forward to engaging you to make our region the best place to live and work.

A quick note on serving on boards: if you are truly dedicated to the mission of the organization, you will invest far more time and effort than you would expect or be led to believe when you are recruited – though I would say that the time is well spent with the people you interact with and the issues you get to address.

The Zoning and Development Divide

I have an interesting role at Domino's Farms straddling the world of real estate and politics.  A world often in conflict between private property rights and government regulatory control.  One where real estate operates in the built environment providing space solutions to help business compete more effectively, while enabling individuals to create a respite for their home life.   And the other, which often times seems to constrain the opportunities for business and individuals.

Any real estate developer will tell you this area is sometimes challenging (to put it kindly) to bring a project to fruition.  Now, there is certainly a role for government regulations when it comes to ensuring structures are built with certain quality and safety standards.  But when it comes to design and land use, I firmly believe real estate developers responding to the needs of the market is the only route and only truly sustainable path for communities.

Today's employees, more skilled and mobile, are driving change in business and the built environment.  They have changed the standards of workplace attire, they have advanced flexible schedules and telecommuting, and they are changing the very nature of the built work space – from an era of corner offices, to one of cubicles, to now the open collaborative work spaces common in many entrepreneurial businesses.  This new generation is looking for interesting and creative spaces at both their place of employment and, increasingly, third places – public spaces and private locations that foster social interaction and community engagement.

They demand authenticity.  Places of real character and distinction that aren't cookie cutter in nature or institutional in feel.  For most of the second half of the 20th Century, land use and zoning were about conformity and placing every use in a highly predictable manner.  We know many of the results: suburban sprawl; subdivisions of uniform McMansions; longer commutes because of the separation of land uses; rising obesity because of the lack of walkability; and a less-civil society due to increasing disconnect between neighbors.

One would have hoped the solution would be to throw out the old playbook. But often the result has been more complex and sometimes convoluted layers of zoning regulations that stymie the ability of development to improve the built condition for business and individuals.

I have to image that just as businesses have learned to respond to the changing needs of their employees by changing the work space, communities will ultimately need to respond by permitting greater flexibility in zoning and design regulation.  A flexibility that encourages businesses who employ these workers to locate in their community, invest their money, support their schools, contribute to their civic organizations and generally make it a place well worth living.  Lack of flexibility will likely drive these entrepreneurial and knowledge-based economy workers to less regulated or stringent communities, leaving ultimate stagnation behind.

Our built environment is not for one generation of decision makers alone, but needs to have increasing flexibility to address the needs, vision and functionality of each generation.  Vibrant communities are constantly changing.  In the Ann Arbor area we say this is what we want, but more often than not, our regulatory actions don't reflect that.