Oakland's economic outlook is good, UM economists say

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Troy — Oakland County's economic outlook for this next year continues to be upbeat, according to two University of Michigan economists.

George A. Fulton and Donald R. Grimes presented a review of economic outlook for Oakland County to 2017 during a press conference Thursday at the Troy Marriott.

The news is good for Oakland County, which has dubbed itself the "economic engine" of Michigan because of its low unemployment rate and large number of Fortune 500 companies.

Oakland County, with 1.2 million residents, has a jobless rate of 5.3 percent, matching the U.S. figure, and is expected to fall below 5 percent in each of the next two years, better than the national average for the first time since 2003.

"All of the arrows are going in the right direction — the outlook is spectacular," said Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, after reviewing a draft of the Fulton-Grimes report commissioned by the county. The two economists have tracked and forecast regional economic development for more than 30 years.

Fulton and Grimes portrayed Oakland County's economic development as an ongoing success story of recovery, underscored on how the county has managed to either create or regain 87 percent of jobs lost since 2000.

From the spring of 2000 to the state's low point in the third quarter of 2009, the county lost 163,314 jobs. Since then there have been steady gains and, according to the economists, published data in the third quarter of 2014 indicates Oakland County has gained 88,439 jobs with a forecast that by the end of 2017 the county will have created an additional 53,775 jobs.

"Oakland County continues to march on and is now in its sixth year of recovery," said Fulton, who, like Grimes, are members of the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy at the University of Michigan.

In contrast, the pair forecast that by the end of 2017 the state overall will have a job recovery rate of 69 percent.

Driving job recovery, the economists say, is the increased sales in the auto industry as well as the county's emphasis toward information and technology jobs rather than traditional manufacturing jobs.

Fulton and Grimes forecast that high-wage professional and business services — "the heart of the knowledge economy" — will account for 38 percent of the job gains of 18,600 expected in Oakland County over the next three years.

Job growth will be concentrated in testing labs (5,700) and engineering services (4,800) the pair predict.

"Along with company management, which adds more than 1,000 jobs over the next three years, these industries form the core of the white-collar auto industry," Grimes said.

Other areas expected to see growth include health care (12 percent); leisure and hospitality, including restaurants (11 percent); manufacturing (7 percent) construction (6 percent); financial activities, especially real estate (5 percent); and wholesale trade (5 percent).

Fulton and Grimes said the prospects for the county remain bright beyond the forecast due to the county's low cost of living; high education and professional levels of residents; "enviable" position of being in the center of the auto industry; and strength in attracting jobs of the future.

In 2014, Oakland County attracted $171 million of foreign direct investment and two international businesses a month either expanded or located in the county. The investment created 1,941 jobs, according to Stephen Huber, spokesman for the county's department of economic development and community affairs.


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