Oakland County’s economy is key to the state’s future: here’s the forecast

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Oakland County’s labor market is recovering slightly faster than Michigan’s as a whole and soon – through 2022 and 2023 – the county is set to “make a strong economic comeback,” economists say from the University of Michigan.

As of April 1, the county had recovered about 60% of its initial pandemic-related job losses, placing it roughly in line with Michigan’s overall recovery, UM experts said. And the county is expected to gain 4.1% of jobs this year, 4.6% in 2022 and 2.5% in 2023.

This should be good news outside the county as well as inside, as Oakland County has been the main driver of Metro Detroit for years when it comes to advanced jobs and export growth. of State. UM experts presented their 36th annual forecast to senior Oakland County officials on Wednesday, as well as gatherings of small business owners in Birmingham and manufacturing executives in Troy.

Oakland County’s generally high education level and abundance of quality jobs mean that workers in well-paid production and professional jobs will pull Oakland County out of its pandemic-induced recession, said Gabriel Erhlich, director of the UM research seminar in quantitative economics.

“The main cloud on the horizon is that we expect the recovery in low-wage jobs to be slow,” with entry-level service jobs “not fully recovering in our forecast” until 2023, said Erhlich. This prompted Oakland County Director David Coulter to say that it was not enough to help young people enter and pay for college or specialized training after high school, but that “we have to get them. get them to graduate ”.

Coulter said he wanted to provide what he called “education hubs” who could guide, counsel and encourage students with the goal of reducing dropout rates. Coulter’s administration already has an ambitious program in place to get at least 80% of county residents to complete college or other “certified training” after high school by 2030, well above the target. 60% approved by Governor Gretchen Whitmer for all of Michigan. .

After: Economic rebound fueled by vaccines expected in 2021

After: Report: Oakland County Loses 25% of Small Businesses, 156,000 Jobs Due to Pandemic

In 2019, only about 45% of adults in Michigan had post-secondary credentials, according to a study by the Lumina Foundation, which ranked Michigan 32nd nationally in adult education. Economists and employers have said such qualifications are essential if Michigan and the country are to remain competitive amid strong global competition for advanced jobs.

During the 2020 recession, Oakland County and Michigan overall saw their average real wages rise by just over 6% in the county and just under 6% statewide, according to the report. But what looks like a welcome pay rise is actually a “disproportionate loss of lower-paying jobs compared to higher-paying jobs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” and “few individual workers have experienced wage increases. of this magnitude, ”the economists mentioned.

Plus, thousands of low-wage workers aren’t just working, they’ve stopped looking for work, said Donald Grimes, regional economics specialist for the UM team.

“If people don’t re-enter the workforce as we expect, it will become even more difficult to find new workers to hire than we currently think,” said Grimes. News reports in recent weeks have cited low-wage employers in service sectors such as restaurants complaining that generous unemployment benefits during the pandemic have discouraged many low-wage workers from returning to work.

Relaunching small businesses will be particularly difficult, UM experts said. Other forecasts have already predicted that across the country, countless dry cleaners, independent restaurants and small retailers are likely to be shut down forever after losing a vital face-to-face business during the pandemic, with consumers passing in droves. to online shopping.

To save the small businesses that remain, Oakland County will offer a two-for-one match of county funds with local community funds “to keep these businesses open for the next six months or so,” Coulter said. Local community leaders will take the nominations and decide who is eligible “because they know where the needs are,” he said. The aid will be in addition to “the $ 90 million already provided to restaurants and other small businesses,” said Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward, D-Royal Oak, who chairs the county board of directors.

“No other county in the state has provided so much help to small businesses” during the pandemic, Woodward said.

Wednesday’s economic presentation focused on three sites linked by the Internet. UM economists spoke alongside senior Oakland County officials in the county executive building. A group of manufacturing executives met in Troy at the offices of Automation Alley, the nonprofit business advocacy organization founded by former county executive L. Brooks Patterson. And small business owners have gathered to look in Birmingham at Hazel, Ravines & Downtown, a restaurant so named because its location is one block from Maple Road and Woodward Avenue – where three neighborhoods with those names meet. .

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