Sunday, July 16, 2017

Can we talk about Michigan again?

Fireflies have probably flamed out. So let's ask Jean about "rust belt" Michigan.

Brookings has a report up, "A Tale of two Rust Belts: Diverging economic paths shaping community politics."   John Austin, the author summarizes and laments the loss of industrial jobs in the Midwest over the last several decades. But he goes on to argue that not everyplace has fallen into desuetude, not all rust belts cities are the same....some aren't rust belts. His focus is on Michigan. He further argues that places that have moved on are also places that voted Democratic in the 2016 presidential race. He cites the following:

...Apart from Wayne county, home of Detroit’s Democratic base and its African American population stronghold—the big blue votes came from the places that are growing and arguably are succeeding in a changed economy—with more optimistic residents. As Table 1 shows, these metros include:
  • Washtenaw county, home to the world-class University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University, as well as a growing highly-educated population that includes nearly all the state’s venture investors and innovation community;
  • Ingham county, home to the state capitol and Michigan State University, Michigan’s other top-tier research university;
  • Kalamazoo county: the Kalamazoo Promise, which pays college tuition for all school graduates, has helped spark a downtown revival, aiding economic development efforts that have worked to replace the loss of big anchors like Pfizer Corporation and has brought middle-class families back to the urban core; and
  • Once solidly Republican Oakland County, which surprisingly also went blue. Oakland is home to a well-heeled professional class, a growing middle-class African-American and professional immigrant community, high education levels, and a very diverse economic base.
These communities are growing in population and income, and are attracting and keeping well-educated people. In other words, they are “Rust-Belt” no more.

Jean Raber: What's your view on this?


  1. Inlyma few Michigan counties are truly in the Rustbelt, and all the counties mentioned above have always had a more varied economic base and so have been less affected by swings in the auto/mfctng industry.

    The common denominator I see in those four counties mentioned are the high tech medical research facilities they offer and the huge numbers of doctors, administrators, and techs they employ at high wages.

    Them universities in these areas are less reliable employers than they used to be. More adjuncts and more contract services have brought wages down there.

    I would keep an eye on Ingham County. It's the capital, and it has undergone a huge building boom. But the legislature is very conservative and most government departments now hire a lot of outside contractors with no pensions or benefits to speak of. Lansing proper is pretty blue collar, and its auto sector no longer provides reliable jobs. And given that the student doctors from MSU are now going to train in Grand Rapids rather than in Ingham hospitals, I would expect Ingham County's med industry to take a hit.

    Saginaw and Genessee counties are part of Michigan's Rustbelt that have always been in economic straits because they don't have much economic diversity. Theymdon't attract new businesses because of education levels and racial tensions.

    The rest of the state you can carve up into agricultural and tourism areas. If you told people in these counties they were living in the Rustbelt, they'd say you were high.

    Three areas are also worth looking at:

    The Grand Rapids area, home of the DeVos family, which is heavily fundamentalist, conservative, and has varied manufacturing (furniture is a big one). Very conducive to small biz ventures. GR also has a couple of high tech medical research facilities.

    Traverse City-Petoskey area, Michigan's Napa Valley, preferred retirement area of rich Detroiters and Lansing high rollers. This is an incredibly wealthy area, with micro brews, fancy restaurants, and wineries. Lots of Chicagoans dock their boats in this area all summer.

    The Upper Peninsula used to have viable fishery, mining, forestry, and and shipping industries. There is some tourism, but it's a looong drive. The Boy Et Ux went to our old haunts earlier this summer, and said Manistique is a ghost town. The UP is always hit first during a recession and never really recovers. It has been losing population (percentage wise) for decades, and as it loses population, revenues fall, and things just get worse. In a way, it's the Old Rustbelt. Before cars, the UP was booming along the lakeshores. Now its a backwater.

  2. "Them universities"! Geez Louise. I can't type with thumbs!

    1. The two counties with universities, Ingham and Washtenaw, look to have an in-built resistance to downturns, and Jean you add medical centers. If the author is lining up an argument about saving rust belt cities, is he overplaying those two, or any other place that houses higher education and has a guaranteed influx of newbies every September, and the residual groups of foreign students who open restaurants (Thai, Chinese, Vienamese, Middle Eastern) after graduation? If not major economic assets, at least the appearance of a place where people have to buy waste baskets and like to eat out.

    2. I don't know if this really answers the question, but some things mitigate against immunity from downturns in our two university towns as I see it.

      One is that universities don't pay what they used to, and those who live in college towns pay high property tax. So spending by townies is down. And college enrollment is dropping at the big colleges as tuition rises to levels students can't/don't want to pay. So yeah, there is a guaranteed population of students, but not necessarily enough to keep tall the businesses afloat or in the black as that population dips.

      And why would people want to stay in Michigan? Infrastructure is terrible. Public school achievement tests are bad. We have poor health if the obesity rates are any indication. And the job situation isn't great.

      We really need K-12 teachers, but MSU says students reject teaching because it a) doesn't pay enough (they'll be paying back student loans forever) and b) they are turned off by the amount of diddling legislators want to do to "fix" education.

      And there is a demand for nurses and med techs here and everywhere. But colleges have been slow to build facilities for those programs.

      Gov. Snyder is trying to get kids interested in two-year tech training, saying that if we have the work force, the jobs will come. But that tells me the jobs aren't here.

      Anybody who thinks a college alone can save a town should go look around Wayne State University (still a good school) in Detroit.

      I see more empty space on Michigan Avenue across from campus. I see longtime business that were there form decades gone. I see higher turnover in store fronts.

  3. I just know almost nothing about this area. On one family vacation we drove from here to New York and on the way back visited a relative in Michigan by the lake. All I remember was that there were lots of mosquitoes. Interesting that there's a Napa-like area there. Hmmm maybe I could post something about California for those of you who haven't visited.

    1. I use the term "Napa" loosely ...

  4. Only locations in MI I ever visited were Ann Arbor (ERIM in 1970's) and Warren. Someday I have to check out the more touristy areas.

    1. You should go to the Mystery Spot. It is about the crappiest roadside attraction anywhere, but I do not know any Michigan native who has not been to the Mystery Spot. It is a sure fire conversation gambit.

    2. In fact, anybody who wants to come to Michigan, I will personally take you to the Mystery Spot, pay your admission, buy you a pasty at Suzy's, and make sure you are wearing enough DEET.

    3. I would put it way down at the bottom. Highever, if you ever meet anybody from Michigan, be sure to ask them about instant Mich-cred.

    4. Jean, Mystery spot sounds ominously to me like Spook Hill in Lake Wales, Florida. There is a spot on the road next to the Spook Hill Elementary School (I kid you not) where, if you put your car into neutral it will roll backwards up the hill. It is famous, although never voted the states No. 1 attraction by anyone outside of Lake Wales. We did it earlier this year in a car and a van. The Stanleys in the family didn't believe the evidence of their own eyes, and my son the lawyer called it a ripoff even though there is no charge and not even a T-shirt stand in sight. If you are ever in Lake Wales, try it. But it's not worth a special trip.

    5. I'm sorry, Tom, but Spook Hill Elementary does not offer the four-hour rip-off experience of the Mystery Spot. It offers a ratty putty golf course and a zipline ride and a stockade maze in keeping with the Straits area's general "colonial Michigan" theme. You can buy post cards (does anyone even send postcards anymore?) and other trinkets from sullen Yoopers. You do ot live here until you have a family story about going on vacation and being disappointed by the Mystery Spot.

  5. Oh, and not a surprise Oakland Co went blue. Only the very nicest Republicans live there. They support their schools, libraries, and uprightness, and honesty. Trump was way too vulgar for them. I know some of those Republican ladies, and believe you me, they all went and got their hair shellacked, picked up their Coach pocketbooks and car keys, and drove down to the polls and voted for Hillary.

  6. At least they know vulgar when they hear it! Not a high bar I know.

  7. In thinking about this some more, I wonder how these giant medical centers will be affected by an ACA repeal ... or even by the inflation of premiums if the ACA stands.

    I had to purchase a less generous plan this year because of premium hikes, so going out of the Sparrow Health System in Lansing would be out of my price range.

    Some plans are expected to rise in the double digits again for 2018. I expect that this will affect employer-provided health care.

    So while we in the bottom third of the state have many great medical facilities, their continued affordability seems dicey.

    I think there's a notion that these facilities will attract more people to the state. Maybe that will happen. I'm not sure the well-trained 20- and 30-somethings we need to keep the state vital choose a work location based on its great hospitals. It may attract rich retirees.

    I don't know. Just don't think being a health Mecca is necessarily them best road to revitalization.

  8. Jean, I dunno. Health has gone from 1/7 of the economy when the Clintons tried to fix it to 1/6 of the economy. So say coal mining eventually becomes a Great Again another 1/6 of the economy. That leaves 4/6 or 2/3 to be restaurants, bistros and fast-food shops. Except for government, which will wither away when America is Great Again, and lawyers who won't but will be minuscule. But the 2/3 ought to provide plenty of patients for the 1/6, as I see it.