County’s Economic Outlook Hinges on Workers

TELLING THE ECONOMIC TALE for the next three years in Oakland County’s future were Donald R. Grimes (left) and Dr. Gabriel M. Ehrlich of the University of Michigan Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics.

By CYNTHIA KMETT

The outlook for continued solid growth in Oakland County over the next three years is good, predicted Dr. Gabriel Ehrlich, Director of the University of Michigan Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics, last Thursday at the 33rd Annual Economic Outlook Luncheon at the Troy Marriott.

While 2017 only had 8,800 new jobs, he saw that downshift as a “one- time statistical revision,” that is not about to happen this year. There should be about 12,200 new jobs created in Oakland County in 2018 and 14,000 next year.

Couple that with an unemployment rate of 3.5 percent and getting lower, Dr. Ehrlich sees the county’s unemployment rate at 2.6 percent by 2020, an all-time low. While he sees wages rising at the rate of 1.1 percent, adjusted for inflation, he pointed out that is three times faster than in the past. In fact, higher-paying jobs will account for 80 percent of new jobs in the county in the next three years.

County Executive L. Brooks Patterson interjected to point out the county lost 160,000 jobs in the great recession and it would take us to 2020 to recapture all those jobs.

But there are a couple of hitches in the economic scheme of things. Both Ehrlich and his colleague Donald Grimes pointed out, these won’t be jobs in the automotive industry or many in manufacturing. New county jobs will be in professional and technical services like engineering, testing, computers, and design, as well as health care, and leisure and hospitality. (Healthcare and IT are already the county’s largest industries.)

“All growth is predicated on there being enough workers to fill these jobs,” Grimes indicated knowingly. “With 1.3 percent per year workforce growth, we need especially well-educated workers for these jobs in the county’s Emerging Sectors industries,“ he pointed out. “Life is pretty good as long as we can fill these jobs.”

There’s another lack of workers in Michigan, too. “There’s a horrible shortage of skilled labor,” Ehrlich observed. Patterson added that one of his jobs now is to spread the word that the training for the trades that were taken away in the recession needs to be restored and that one can make a very substantial living in those occupations today. Ehrlich added this is a problem all over our country.

Patterson added that it’s a problem to keep our own kids here, and Grimes pointed out it is ”harder to get kids to move to your area than to keep them after college.”

“The region’s prosperity is doing well,” Grimes told the 600 people in the audience at the Troy Marriott. “The state is prospering,” he added, noting that 300,000 people come to work in Oakland County every day.