Prosper Spotlight: Oakland County’s Economic Outlook Luncheon

A dire economic forecast for 2009 shouldn’t completely overshadow the opportunities and bright spots in Oakland County’s economic picture.

That’s what University of Michigan economist George Fulton thinks anyway, as he and fellow U-M economist Donald Grimes delivered their annual forecast report at the Oakland County Economic Outlook Luncheon at Rock Financial Showplace in Novi April 30.

“The outlook for Oakland County could be viewed as a tale of two eras: the worst of times and the best of times,” says Fulton, a professor with U-M’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy. “We need to get the pain behind us and move forward with a diversified economy in this state. Oakland will transition to the best of times.”

Before that can happen, however, there will be some more pain. Fulton and Grimes predict more jobs will be lost in 2009 in the county, with the majority coming from the manufacturing, construction and auto-related sectors.

“We think the county is going to lose about 25,000 jobs,” Grimes says. “There’s no way to sugar-coat the message.”

He adds the county will peak at a 12-percent unemployment rate before rebounding by the end of 2010. At that time, the county will see the beginning of modest growth, with just over 200 jobs added in the area.

Until then, housing prices are expected to bottom out in 2009, and light-vehicle sales will remain at their lowest levels since 1970.

All things considered, says Grimes, Oakland County is weathering the storm well, and is keeping far enough away from an economic precipice so as to position itself for a revival come late 2010. In fact, he adds, there are few county governments as forward-looking as Oakland County.

The Emerging Sectors program and Medical Main Street are two of the programs Grimes cited as proactive moves.

“It’s a tough three years,” he says, “but you guys are doing as much as you can possibly do.”

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson says he will continue to keep business and economic development at the top of his priorities.

“We in the county will be participating with any program that aims to put our residents back to work,” he says.

Patterson also lauds the creation of economic development programs like Medical Main Street. “I think they’ll lead us back to prosperity,” he says.

A highly educated workforce and that proactive approach have already helped stave off catastrophe, says Grimes. “The losses would have been even more severe if not for the time-proven resiliency of the Oakland County economy.”

In addition, the health care and social assistance sectors continue to add jobs and see growth even in struggling times. Commercial banking, film, aerospace and software publishing are also among the 20 industries expected to see growth in the next three years in the county.

“These findings remind us that the economy is always churning,” says Fulton, “and there are good things even in this environment.”

Grimes is just as optimistic, adding that Oakland County must find the opportunities hidden within the sour economic picture in order to prevail.

“Every time there’s a crisis, there are opportunities,” he says.

For example, now would be an ideal time to lure financial service companies looking to trim budgets by moving from high-cost places like New York City to incentive-rich Oakland County.

Health care’s continued growth will also create jobs in industries like medical equipment distribution and bioscience research.

In the end, the economists predict that Oakland County will not only survive the storm, it will be in a better position once that storm has passed.

And it will pass, says Grimes.

“Recessions end, they have always ended in the United States,” he says. “All we have to do is figure out a way to get through it and position ourselves to prosper. George (Fulton) and I are confident the prospects for this county in five years, 10 years, are good.”

Get more information discussed at the Economic Outlook Luncheon here.

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