BY RICH REZLER
Three University of Michigan economists presented an optimistic forecast for the local economy during a Washtenaw Economic Club meeting held March 29 at Washtenaw Community College.
As a room full of local business leaders mingled inside the Morris Lawrence Building, encouraged by the three-year predictions they had just heard, Washtenaw County Economic Outlook co-author Donald Grimes shook hands and paused for an interview. He pointed out that WCC was more than the location of the annual presentation, it can also play a key role in helping to avoid one of the few areas of concern brought forward in the report.
“Our forecasts found that we’re running out of workers, and that could be a very big problem in 10 to 15 years,” Grimes said. “One source of labor is the under-utilized population. These people have to be brought into the labor force and a community college can, in part, play a critical role.”
The county’s potential labor shortage stems from the economists’ projection that people over the age of 65 could make up 21.6 percent of its population by 2045, a long-term outlook that highlights the importance of attracting and retaining labor from outside the county.
The rest of the forecast was mostly sunny, calling for a continuation of the local economic recovery that started after the recession of 2008. The positive trends coincide with that of other communities around the state and nation, although the economists noted that Washtenaw County has an advantage because of its educated population and new economy jobs.
This year’s outlook calls for job growth of 1.5 percent annually over the next three years (a total of 9,735 jobs) with the largest gains coming in higher education; professional, scientific and technical services; health care services; and leisure and hospitality.
Gabriel Ehrlich, who took over as the main author of the report after replacing George Fulton as director of U-M’s Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics, also predicts the unemployment rate to fall by 0.5 percent over three years to 2.7 percent in 2019, the lowest rate in the county since 2000.
“If our forecast of the unemployment rate proves correct, the county labor market would appear to be approaching full employment over the next three years,” Ehrlich said.
Following presentations by Ehrlich and Grimes, they were joined on stage by Fulton, Ann Arbor SPARK President and CEO Paul Krutko and Bank of Ann Arbor President and CEO Tim Marshall for a Q&A session moderated by Paula Gardener of MLive/Ann Arbor News.
“In short, we see sustained – yet a tad slower – job growth and an economy approaching full employment, combined with growing real wages and moderate inflation,” Ehrlich said. “That is a recipe for continued economic success, with all of the key ingredients finally in the mix.”
The full Economic Outlook for Washtenaw County report can be found at lsa.umich.edu/econ/rsqe.html.
Upcoming Economic Club Luncheon
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May 11, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
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