TRAVERSE CITY — There’s often a fine line between optimism and realism, not unlike the shades between a realist and a pessimist.
So how would a realist assess Northern Michigan’s economy these days? Is it a cloudy future because of a slower than hoped for recovery from the Great Recession, hyper-partisanship among lawmakers or having our state’s largest city adrift in bankruptcy? Or are there rays of sunshine on Michigan’s economic horizon?
A pessimist can certainly point to those factors and others as cause for concern.
But here in Northwest Michigan, even the most-grounded realist can be optimistic about the weeks, months and years ahead. There are numerous local economic indicators trending in the right direction, including:
n Improving jobless numbers. The August unemployment rate for the 10-county region stood at 8.4 percent. That’s about the same as a year ago and higher than we’d like to see. But there were 1,200 more people working in the 10-county region compared to 2012 according to state data, which shows growth in the regional job market. Grand Traverse County’s jobless rate in late summer was 6.8 percent.
n A significant rebound in 2013 in the region’s construction sector. According to Grand Traverse County’s Construction Code office, more than $90 million in new construction has taken place through the first three quarters of 2013 – figures that don’t include Garfield Township, which has its own code office. The $90 million-plus represents a whopping 79 percent increase from the same period in 2012. New construction within Traverse City through September 2013 totaled $36.7 million, almost triple the $14.8 million through the same period in 2012. The work ranges from new retail chains and restaurants to locally-owned shops and financial institutions. It creates jobs within those new businesses and restores jobs in the construction sector that suffered the most during the recession. Much of it is in-fill development that helps sustain our urban areas and minimizes the impact of suburban sprawl.