After a decade of financial hardship, Macomb County is in a stage of economic recovery with population increases, job growth, falling unemployment rates and the formation of a solid brand to lure visitors and business.
However, the county still has tremendous obstacles to address in the near future, including a middle class living "closer to the edge," according to Dr. Jim Jacobs, president Macomb Community College and renown economist.
Jacobs presented his annual Economic Forecast for Macomb County Thursday at Zuccaro Banquets and Catering in Chesterfield Township.
The overall tone for the 2012 forecast was positive with Jacobs declaring the county will do better than the national economy in terms of growth and recovery.
Positive Outlook for Macomb County
"In 2012, for Macomb County, the recovery will actually be sharper and more certain," he said, pointing to 2010 U.S. Census figures that show population growth, increased auto industry sales and employment. "Unemployment will fall and incomes will rise."
The Obama administration bailout of General Motors and Chrysler has led to a "substantial turnaround" for the auto industry, which has a huge presence in the county, Jacobs said.
"Macomb County has probably the largest amount of Chrysler employees than any other county in the U.S." he said.
With car life expectancy to be 10.8 years, there's a good chance for another economic boost when residents replace their vehicles in the near future.
"The auto industry has not vanished from the Midwest," he said.
In addition to the auto industry, defense and health care sectors have grown in the county while branding initiatives are also beneficial. Local leaders, such as the first-ever Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, are promoting Macomb County's assets. Among the targets for marketing are: Lake St. Clair and the Nautical Mile for tourism in the state, the county as the defense capitol of the world, M-59/Garfield as a destination for health and educational sectors and the widely traveled Gratiot corridor.
Strides have also been made in unemployment and housing, according to Jacobs.
Michigan saw an unemployment rate of 9.3 percent last month—the lowest since 8.9 percent in September 2008. Michigan came in sixth place for the number of foreclosed housing units, behind Nevada, California, Arizona and others. Macomb County Treasurer Ted Wahby's policy to keep residents in their homes have made strides in staving off foreclosure among many families, Jacobs said.
In retail news, the Christmas sales at the Mall at Partridge Creek in Clinton Township and Lakeside Mall in Sterling Heights were outstanding this season, he said.
The county itself is also experiencing a changing demographic, especially among students. More than 16 languages are spoken in public schools and the fastest-growing language in the county is Bengali, as many Hamtramck residents who speak the language recently moved to Macomb County, he said.
Nevertheless, income levels have dropped 27.9 percent from 1999-2010, largely because older people exited the workforce and displaced workers are making less money in the county. And, for the first time in county history, the younger generation is expected to earn less than their parents.
"The new generation emerging in Macomb County will be less educated and economically advanced," he said, adding that many of those people will need to rely on some form of governmental assistance.
Already there are roughly 180,000 county residents on state or federal government assistance programs, including food stamps, he said.
Once a sure thing, the real estate market should also no longer be looked at as a go-to place for little risk and high return. That's something developers have also had no choice but to acknowledge in recent years.
External factors, such as the destabilization of the European economy and devaluation of the euro, political turmoil in the U.S. and the presidential election, could lead to financial uncertainty across the country and, therefore, affect local residents. The financial instability of the city of Detroit, considered the epicenter of the region, could also play a role in Macomb's economy.
Another concern the economist expressed during the event was the challenges facing public school districts that have less funding and frequently measure academic success with various tests that may create a "false accountability."
Local Leaders React to Speech
Hackel, the county executive who introduced Jacobs at the event, was energized by the speech.
"This was probably the best presentation that I've seen him deliver," he said. "Macomb County is poised to be at the center of Michigan's upturn."
Macomb County Board of Commission Chairwoman Kathy Vosburg of Chesterfield Township said, "I was encouraged by the report. There's many opportunities for growth and businesses to be able to accommodate the needs of the residents of our area."
In his closing statements, Jacobs reiterated the positive sentiments of the 2012 forecast.
"Macomb County is in recovery, coming back on its traditional roots—the modern automobile industry," he said. "I'm more than just optimistic. Now, we just need to put the pieces together and really move forward."