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Posted: 01/22/14

DRIVEN GROWTH. Above, Dr. Jim Jacobs, president of Macomb Community College, said he expects the auto industry's slow expansion to have a positive impact on Macomb County's economy in 2014. Jacobs presented his economic forecast to businesses and elected officials on Jan. 15 at Zuccaro's Banquets and Catering in Chesterfield Township.

(Observer photo by Chris Gray)

Economist predicts
growth for county in `14

Observer Staff Writer
      Macomb County is on its way to economic growth thanks to auto industry advances and improved housing prices.
       Jim Jacobs, an economist and president of Macomb Community College, shared his predictions for the 2014 year at the annual Economic Forecast held Jan. 15 at Zuccaro Banquets and Catering in Chesterfield Township.
       He said for the third year in a row the local economy has exceeded national recovery in many areas, primarily driven by increases in the auto industry and sales. Projections show an increase from 15.8 million sales to 16.2 million sales.
       He said as more technology is installed into vehicles, the county should shed its image of being a blue collar automotive center as a result of more industry information technology job opportunities pop up in the area.
       "All of this makes the automobile industry not only central as an employer, but central as a driver of research and development worldwide for this industry," he said.
       In Michigan, more than 15,000 new jobs were created in the industry in 2013, the bulk of which were in Macomb County.
       On a local level, Jacobs said he believes there are opportunities for agriculture to take off, such as how the industry is expanding with hard cider or wineries.
       "I didn't realize this until I started getting into it, but if you go down to the Eastern Market in Detroit, 30 percent of all the people selling food in the Eastern Market are growers from Macomb County," he said after the presentation.
       Jacobs also credited Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel's "Make Macomb Your Home" campaign as more than just a slogan, but a way of drawing people into the county with an improved image.
       As a testament to that, housing prices are going up by around 37 percent. In the third quarter of 2012, the average house sale in the county was $118,508. In 2013, it jumped up to $159,417.
       Residential building permits and home sales are also on the rise in the county. In 2012, Macomb saw 1,205 permits pulled, while in 2013 it rose to 1,696. Foreclosures are heading in the opposite direction, dipping to 2,757 compared to 4,461 in 2012.
       Tax assessments are projected to go up in a majority of the county's communities. Of them, Bruce Township has one of the highest increases at 5.2 percent. Washington Township is expected to increase by 3.3 percent, while Ray Township will go up by 2.2 percent.
       However, Jacobs noted those homes are filled with residents taking in less money. From 1999 to 2012, Macomb County has lost close to $20,000 in median household income, dropping from $71,797 to $52,185. Jacobs noted the level is now closer to the median income of Wayne County.
       "We are digging out of a huge hole," he said, referring to the Great Recession.
       Though unemployment in the county sank to 7.8 percent in 2013, Jacobs said participation in the labor force is down roughly 30,000 jobs less than at peak times in 2000.
       Wildcards in the county's future include profit sharing with the Big Three, federal reserve policies, health care law implementation, the role of a regional transportation authority and the recovery of Detroit through its bankruptcy.
       A county divided
       Jacobs said one thing the county must do to improve the economy is find the commonalities between communities to eliminate a north and south distinction. He said the county should avoid promoting developments that serve only certain areas of the county.
       "Doing that, I think, becomes an important part of who we are as leaders and what the county is going to be like in the future," he said.
       Hackel said there will always be some level of competition, but believes continued discussions about bringing communities together will help eliminate the divide.
       "I'm trying to figure out how we bring those 27 municipalities together to find out what their assets are," he said.
       He pointed to the new county communications center, COMTEC, as one way of bringing together multiple facets of government. He said if the county is unified it can better support its neighbors as a region and therefore bring more attention and jobs to the county.
       Dave Flynn, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said he sees the county assisting in closing the divide by facilitating meetings for local municipalities and providing services like equalization and dispatching.
       "The county can play a large role in providing services for local municipalities at a cheaper rate that helps Macomb County, but also helps the community," he said.
       Jacobs said even with intense economic activity and restructuring on the national level, growth patterns have not reached the levels of previous decades. In Michigan, for instance, 12 cities are under emergency financial managers.

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