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Posted on Sun, Mar 24, 2013 : 11 a.m.

Economic forecast sure to provide interesting look into Washtenaw County's future

By Paula Gardner reported last spring that three-year job growth in this region would total 11,038 through 2014, based on an annual forecast from University of Michigan economists George Fulton and Donald Grimes.

Those numbers, we reported at the time, put the county on a job growth pace that resembled what some still call the “go-go 1990s,” or 1995-2000.

Economic forecasting is notoriously difficult. Yet Fulton and Grimes, in providing this annual report for Ann Arbor throughout the past 27 years, have a cumulative margin of error of -0.7 percent.


When the economy is on the up-swing, housing takes price leaps that remind us of another era of over-exuberance.

Courtney Sacco |

The 28th annual Economic Outlook for Washtenaw County will be presented by Fulton on Wednesday, with coverage in’s print and online editions. The report, prepared for, also will be discussed in detail at a Washtenaw Economic Club luncheon that day.

Business reporters Lizzy Alfs and Ben Freed are preparing to go through this year’s reports to write full coverage on what this region can expect in job growth, the types of jobs where employers will be hiring (or losing ground) and wage trends.

If the report shows that last year’s version was on target - and, as I mentioned, it usually is - we should find that this region will:

  • Continue to beat the state and national average on unemployment rates.
  • Show yet more job growth in high-wage positions, or jobs that pay at least $57,000 per year.
  • Continue to benefit from this area’s employment strongholds: health care, universities and automotive.

All of that is good news for this area, which suffered along with the rest of the nation during the financial crisis.

Yet this documented rebound - which started in 2010 - may still not be enough persuasion for many among us that our improving local economy means that our personal financial situations are improving, too.

State and national tax changes, rising consumer prices and global financial insecurity loom in the background of any discussion of more and better jobs in Washtenaw County.

And while more opportunities seem to be opening for people who are looking for jobs, I’m still hearing of hesitancy among many companies to fill positions quickly when an employee gives notice.

Many among us, on the corporate and personal levels, still don’t trust that they could find a new job or sustain a new hire.

That’s the emotional fallout still lingering from the downturn.

On the other hand, we can watch mortgage firms hire and housing takes price leaps that remind us of another era of over-exuberance. And, at times lately, it may seem like we’re heading for 1998 all over again.

Fulton and Grimes are ready to tell us whether that’s the case, and I look forward to hearing that report and telling that story on

Even if we’re surprised, and hiring slowed to under-projection, it’s probably only a matter of time before the majority of us can answer my question at the beginning of this column with a firm, “Yes.”


Tom Joad

Sun, Mar 24, 2013 : 6:35 p.m.

The driving force of the economy is consumer spending. JC Penney and Walmart have reported steep declines in sales. Even Dollar General, a store geared to lower incomes is reporting slowing sales. Increased payroll taxes sap consumer spending. Some recent restaurant closings downtown Eastern Accent, Mahek, Grand Traverse Pie would seem to indicate a contraction in spending.


Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

For consumers to have more to spend, the companies that employ them have to pay them good wages. Corporate profits are up, investment income is up, now all we have to do is wait for it to trickle down....wait for it.....keep waiting....patience, this could take a while.....wait for it....oops, looks like it doesn't work. Makes for a good theory though.


Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 1:48 p.m.

Eastern Accent closed over a dispute with the landlord, not due to a drop in revenue. Grand Traverse was put in a poor location for their desired clientèle. As mentioned above, payroll taxes were rolled back to were they were for a long time, only an "increase" if compared to the temporary cut. Just like saying returning tax rates to were they were in the 90's boom times would be a "raise in taxes"...not really.


Sun, Mar 24, 2013 : 10:48 p.m.

JC Penney also took on a washed-up Apple exec that is driving them that last stretch to the grave.

Basic Bob

Sun, Mar 24, 2013 : 6:58 p.m.

"Increased payroll taxes sap consumer spending." Yes, that was a really bad idea to temporarily reduce payroll taxes. First of all, now people think they have suddenly increased, when in fact the last time they were raised on the majority of workers was the 1980s. Also, it cut directly into money being collected for Social Security and Medicare, two areas that are already notoriously underfunded.

Dog Guy

Sun, Mar 24, 2013 : 6:09 p.m.

Everyone I know plans to continue sucking on government teat and buying imports. Life is good.


Sun, Mar 24, 2013 : 4:33 p.m.

I believe it was Galbraith who conceded that he only purpose of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable. What has changed?


Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 12:24 p.m.

You always have to watch it when they talk about "igniting" things in Livingston County.


Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 10:49 a.m.

And it was President Harding who quipped that he needed a three-handed economist to give him the answer instead of 'on the one hand this might happen, but on the other hand this might' possibilities. On a bright note, however, Ann Arbor SPARK has improved Livingston County's job picture after only one year into their contract. "Ann Arbor SPARK officials said they are on the verge of igniting some significant business activity in Livingston County. In their first year of handling economic development for the county, SPARK officials said they have 20 projects in the pipeline that represent $40 million in investment and would create 434 jobs. The potential projects are from existing companies and some new ones. SPARK officials admitted not all the projects might happen, but they're optimistic about the activity." - Livingston Country Daily Press & Argus Livingston Country may exceed Ann Arbor now that SPARK'S generating the jobs numbers.

The Picker

Sun, Mar 24, 2013 : 3:31 p.m.

Paula, Good article, looking forward to the report on the luncheon. Not to be a picker but shouldn't the forecast read, Continue to beat the state and national average on "employment" rates ? The alternative indicates a race to the bottom.

Basic Bob

Sun, Mar 24, 2013 : 3:44 p.m.

It's like golf. Low score wins.