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Numbers show Metro Detroit is making progress

From: Detroit News

December 11, 2014

The climb back remains long and difficult, but chamber’s study suggests greater Detroit’s comeback is well underway

When you’ve been as deeply in the hole as southeast Michigan was over the past decade, it’s sometimes hard to tell how rapidly you’re climbing out. A new report from the Detroit Regional Chamber suggests the region is making solid economic progress.

There’s lots of good news in the report, as one might expect from a study produced by a chamber of commerce. They’re not in the business of poor-mouthing their communities. But the study is based on statistical measures, and the numbers are encouraging in areas like income gains, job creation and investment activity.

Some of the more notable examples in the inaugural State of the Region report:

■Among the major cities the Detroit region was compared to, only Dallas with 16.3 percent had a stronger five-year growth rate than Detroit’s 14 percent. It outpaced such regions as Seattle, Boston, Minneapolis and Atlanta.

■Much of the growth can be credited to the comeback of the domestic automobile industry, which now produces more vehicles in this region than it did pre-recession. Twenty-three percent of U.S. vehicle production occurs in the greater Detroit area.

■Health care is an even faster growing industry, providing jobs for 320,000 residents.

■While income growth nationwide remains sluggish, per capita earnings are up 3.8 percent here over the past five years, bettering the national average by a full percentage point. The region still has a comparatively high unemployment rate, but has cut the gap between its rate and the national average to 3.2 percent from 6.8 percent five years ago.

■Vacancy rates for commercial and industrial space are falling, but still are well above the national average.

■Michigan’s entrepreneurial climate has jumped to sixth from 41st in 2008, and the region leads the nation in small business lending. It ranks ninth in patents.

There are some areas of concern, most notably in educational attainment. Only 28 percent of Metro Detroiters over age 25 have college degrees, placing Detroit at the bottom of its peer group. Future growth will be limited if the skills gap isn’t erased. One way to get there is attracting highly educated immigrants. Of the foreign born workers in the region, 38.7 percent have at least a bachelor’s degree, and nearly 20 percent have science or engineering degrees. Gov. Rick Snyder’s efforts to recruit and retain educated immigrants should pay off in greater economic growth.

There’s much to build on in the region. Of Michigan’s 19 Fortune 500 companies, 13 are headquartered in greater Detroit. The region is also a major exporter, ranking fifth among the top 10 metro areas in total exports. Getting the new Detroit River bridge built should boost that ranking.

Southeast Michigan and the state as a whole have a long way to go to reclaim the prosperity enjoyed before the Lost Decade. But the chamber’s report makes it evident we aren’t falling any longer, and have made significant gains in the climb back to the top.