Despite upbeat media reports, Michigan's April jobs report not so hot

| Thursday, May 16, 2013
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Yes, the employment trend in Michigan is headed in the right direction. But April's jobs report, released on Wednesday, wasn't nearly as upbeat as some of the media headlines suggested.

In fact, had the national labor market mirrored Michigan's performance in April, it would have been widely viewed as a disaster.

The jobless rate fell to 8.4 percent from 8.5 percent in March. There were 19,000 more people were working in April than in March, according to the government's household survey. And the labor force grew by 2,000, the first year-over-year increase since 2006.

But wage and salary jobs, based on a survey of businesses, tell a different story. Those are the job numbers you see released for the U.S. economy at the start of each month and the ones economists generally rely on to gauge the health of the job market.

Michigan lost 4,000 payroll jobs in April after losing 3,000 jobs in March. Those numbers were downplayed in many media reports, if they were mentioned at all.

The U.S. economy added 165,000 payroll jobs in April and 138,000 jobs in March.

Still, the job trend line is heading up in the state. But the monthly ride has been bumpy, reflecting the sluggishness of the recovery. Michigan has added a net 32,000 payroll jobs over the past 13 months, but has lost jobs in seven of them. (Jobs in April 2012 were down from March 2012, not shown in chart below.)

Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget

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Leelanau County commissioners: we don't want more jobs and economic development

| Monday, May 6, 2013
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Leelanau County is a bucolic peninsula of rolling farmland, vineyards and picturesque small towns that juts into Lake Michigan, forming the western shore of Grand Traverse Bay.

It's the quiet, northern Michigan playground of celebrities and high-level government officials, including chef Mario Batali, actor Tim Allen, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Gangster Al Capone once owned a getaway south of Leland.

And apparently Leelanau County is an economic utopia.

While most public officials in the state, from Gov. Rick Snyder on down, put jobs and economic development at the top of their priority lists, Leelanau County officials say they have no need for either.

Last month, the county board of commissioners abolished the county's economic development board and rejected a partnership with the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corp. to develop a new jobs strategy, according to a story in Sunday's Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Several county commissioners said government shouldn't get involved in the economy because Leelanau County has all the jobs and wealth it needs. Plus, they said, county residents are opposed to more growth. Said commissioner Melinda Lautner:

We can’t be health, wealth, happiness and prosperity. We are not that person. That’s not what we are elected to do. Interestingly enough, Leelanau County has health and wealth … that’s just a bonus. We are already there.

Yes, Leelanau is a wealthy and healthy county. It had per capita income in 2011 of $43,978, the second-highest among Michigan's 83 counties, according to a Bureau of Economic Analysis study. Oakland County ranked first with per capita income of $53,297.

Leelanau also ranks as the state's healthiest county, according to a University of Wisconsin study. Researchers said the county's top ranking was in part due to the wealth and education levels of its residents.

Nearly 39 percent of the county's adults have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 25.3 percent of all Michigan adults with college degrees, according to census figures.

But Leelanau's highly educated, big earners appear to be wealthy retirees and other adults with few, if any, children living in their households. The median age of a Leelanau County resident is 49.7 years, well above the state's median age of 38.5 years.

Mike Murray, superintendent of Suttons Bay Public Schools, told the Record-Eagle the county needs more jobs to attract young families. His school system has lost 40 percent of its students since 2001. He explained:

That’s due mainly to the outflow of young families who have to move because they can’t find employment. We are very interested in maintaining a balance of young, middle age, and senior citizens.

But county commissioner Debra Rushton said people living in her district don't want new residents and businesses moving into their northern Michigan Shangri-la:

“They are not interested in it. They are perfectly comfortable going down to the local gas station, pumping gas, picking up a gallon of milk, and going home to their quiet community. They don’t want growth.

I get that the locals may be worried about too much growth ruining the beauty of the area and its pace of life. My wife and I used to live in Traverse City, which has experienced tremendous commercial expansion over the past several decades. I've joked with my friends there that the Traverse City area has become Oakland County by the bay with its shopping malls, big box retailers and office towers.

But there's a conceit in Leelanau County commissioners who think they don't have to promote economic development because it occurs naturally there, as Rushton actually said during a commission meeting:

“People who want to do business will come to this community. Why did we come to this community? Why did many of you people come to this community? Because of the beauty. Because of the serenity.

That "you people" attitude may bite the county some day if economic conditions change, as they have a habit of doing.

There's a funny thing about economic development and jobs: they come and stay where they're welcome. Leelanau County just rolled up the welcome mat.

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Let's stop comparing elected officials to Hitler

| Saturday, May 4, 2013
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This blog is supposed to be about Michigan's economy, but Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson lit fire to an issue that has long bothered me: comparing elected officials to Adolf Hitler.

And, hey, this is my blog, so I'm going to write about it.

By now, many of you know that Patterson called fellow Republican and House Speaker Jase Bolger "Adolf Bolger" during an appearance Friday on WKAR's "Off the Record" public affairs program.

Patterson, who was seriously injured in a car accident last August, is peeved with Bolger over the way Republicans are handling hearings on legislation that would eliminate unlimited lifetime medical benefits to those injured in motor vehicle accidents. Michigan is the only state that provides such coverage.

Plus, Patterson said on the show, Bolger is getting too big for his britches:

'Adolf' Bolger, you mean? He's really become very arrogant and he's throwing his weight around up there. If he thinks he's going to be a candidate for governor, he better learn how to control his temper, he better learn to work with the consensus within his own party."

Patterson also put a black comb under his nose to emulate Hitler's mustache.

He isn't the first to compare an elected leader to the German fuhrer. Many who disliked former President George W. Bush called him a modern-day Hitler for invading Iraq. And President Barack Obama is regularly portrayed as Hitler by folks who think he's trying to seize control of the government by taking our guns and requiring citizens to have health insurance, among other things.

Maybe we've forgotten just how bad a guy Hitler, who died in 1945, really was. He started a world war, exterminated 6 million Jews and targeted other ethnic groups in his attempt to create a white master race. None of our elected officials can seriously be accused of doing anything that approaches those atrocities, thank God.

Patterson probably wasn't being serious when he equated Bolger to Hitler. He's long been known for his outrageous antics and statements. Republicans and Democrats are equal-opportunity targets for Brooks. He once demanded that former Republican Gov. John Engler spend more money to fix the roads by having himself photographed standing waist-deep in a giant, fake pothole and distributing the photo to the media.

A lot of people who hadn't been paying attention likely are now aware of the fight over reforming the state's no-fault insurance law as a result of Patterson's Hitler remark. But Brooks is a clever guy who could have come up with an equally effective way of drawing attention to the issue without making the tasteless Hitler comparison. He has since apologized.

Republicans weren't the only ones acting up last week. House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel expressed his frustration with Bolger and other Republicans by saying he would no longer "negotiate with terrorists."

The nastiness in Lansing got so bad that Daddy Republican Gov. Rick Snyder had to issue a statement late Friday telling the kids to knock it off.

Snyder, as we know, is all about relentless, positive action to create jobs and businesses, and using state government to better serve Michigan's nearly 10 million "customers." Our nerdy CPA governor views all this Hitler and terrorist talk as not being very helpful to his reinvention of Michigan.

Maybe this blog post was about the state's economy, after all.

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Kentucky incentives keep pouring down on Toyota

| Monday, April 22, 2013
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Toyota announced last week that it will begin building luxury Lexus vehicles at its huge manufacturing complex in Georgetown, Ky. This is a very big deal to those who follow the industry because it marks the first time Toyota has trusted American workers to produce vehicles carrying the inestimable Lexus badge.

The Japanese automaker will spend $360 million at the Georgetown complex, which will allow the company to manufacture about 50,000 Lexus ES 350 models a year. Building those cars will result in the addition of 750 jobs.

But Kentucky is paying a hefty price to get those jobs. The Bluegrass State has tentatively approved an incentive package for Toyota valued at $146.5 million. When I plug that number into my calculator and divide by the number of new Lexus jobs, I come up with $195,333 per job.

A 2008 study found that Kentucky and other mostly southern states have awarded nearly $3.6 billion in taxpayer-supported subsidies to foreign-owned auto plants in the United States.

And in case you're wondering, Kentucky is not a right-to-work state. Proponents of the new RTW law in Michigan say it's nearly impossible to attract manufacturing investment from another state or country without being a right-to-work state. Kentucky is a successful exception to that rule. The state is home to about 6,600 Toyota workers.

(Thanks to the late Eddie Rabbit and Dick Heard who wrote the Elvis Presley hit, "Kentucky Rain," for inspiring the headline on this blog post.)

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Michigan income growth slowed last year

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013
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Incomes grew in Michigan last year, but the rate of growth slowed from 2011, according to figures released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Personal income in the state grew 3.5 percent, down from 5.2 percent in 2011. Michigan's income growth rate was the same as the national rate of 3.5 percent. In 2011, Michigan's personal income growth was slightly higher than the national rate of 5.1 percent.

State per capita income grew 3.4 percent, from $36,264 in 2011 to $37,497 last year. That's down from 5.2 percent per capita income growth in 2011. However, the state's ranking rose slightly to 35th in per capita income from 36th in 2011.

Still, Michigan's per capita income last year was just 88 percent of the national average.

Perhaps slowing income growth last year helps explain why, according to a new poll, Michigan voters are dissatisfied with the state's economic performance.

Only 39 percent of state voters think Michigan's economy has improved over the past year, according to the poll released Tuesday by Marketing Resource Group in Lansing.

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Michigan residents clustering in big metro areas and moving near water

| Thursday, March 14, 2013
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New census data out today shows that the Detroit and Grand Rapids metro areas continue to grow, while much of rural Michigan is losing population.

The state gained 6,559 new Michiganders, Michiganians or whatever you'd like to call them between July 1, 2011 and July 1, 2012, according to census estimates. But 57 of the state's 83 counties lost population in that time period.

Many were small, rural counties in the northern half of the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula.

But Wayne County, the state's largest, also contracted, losing 9,424 residents, mainly due to a continued population loss in Detroit. The city's population has fallen from 713,71 in 2010 to 678,000 in 2012, according to an estimate by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

Still, metro Detroit grew slightly, gaining 4,094 people. Metro Grand Rapids also expanded. Ottawa County, which includes Holland and borders Lake Michigan, grew by 1.1 percent last year, the fastest growth rate in the state. Its next-door neighbor, Kent County, where Grand Rapids is located, ranked second in growth, expanding by 1 percent.

Michigan's small population growth was entirely due to a 0.56 percent "natural increase" (births minus deaths) between 2010 and 2012. More than 56,000 people left the state in that time period, resulting in a net migration rate of -0.57 percent.

The most attractive spot in the state for new residents was the Traverse City area. Grand Traverse County, located at the base of Grand Traverse Bay, had a net migration rate of 1.98 percent between 2010 and 2012. Grand Traverse was the only county in Michigan in which the migration rate rose by more than 1 percent over the past two years.

Much more new Michigan census data can be found here.

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How to become a billioniaire in Michigan? Sell Amway, groceries and mortgages

| Monday, March 4, 2013
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Twelve Michigan captains of industry are included in Forbes magazines' latest "Richest People on the Planet" list of billionaires, out today.

Heading the list of the state's wealthiest residents is 87-year-old Amway founder Rich DeVos, whom Forbes says is worth $5.1 billion. Amway, short for the American Way, is located in Ada, a Grand Rapids suburb.

Not far behind are the brothers Hank and Doug Meijer, worth a combined $5 billion. Their family business is Meijer Inc. a chain of grocery and general merchandise stores based in Grand Rapids.

Who's the richest person on the east side of Michigan? Forbes says it's Dan Gilbert, the founder of Quicken loans and a major investor in Detroit real estate. Gilbert has been buying buildings in downtown Detroit as if they were Monopoly properties. Forbes says he's worth $3.5 billion.

Gilbert, 51, also is the youngest Michigan billionaire.

Much of Michigan's wealth was created by the auto industry. But only two auto magnates remain on the Forbes' billionaire list. They are retired Ford Motor Co. executive William Clay Ford Sr., 87, and auto entrepreneur Roger Penske, 76. Ford is said by Forbes to be worth $1.25 billion, while Penske's wealth is reported to be $1.2 billion.

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