BY GLENN PUIT
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A detailed economic analysis of the northwest Michigan economy predicts strong growth over the next quarter-century, which should give entrepreneurs new chances for profits in health care, senior care, construction and the food service sectors.
But growth also will have a downside: roads and government services increasingly will be strained, and there are predictions of a significant shortage of skilled workers in the Grand Traverse region over the next 30 years.
A worker shortage could mean northern Michigan business leaders will have to pay more attention to worker recruitment and retention because skilled workers will be much harder to find as the economy expands.
“It is going to be much harder to get employment gains because there are not going to be the people to fill those jobs, and it’s being driven by the aging of the population,” said Don Grimes, a senior research associate at the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy at the University of Michigan, which performed the economic analysis on behalf of the Michigan Department of Transportation.
The Institute’s analysis predicts the region’s population will grow by roughly 45,322 people, or 26 percent, by 2040. Each of the five counties in the Grand Traverse region — Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim and Kalkaska — will grow, with Grand Traverse County’s population predicted to expand by 30,431 people, or 34 percent, by 2040.
Grimes said the most noticeable numbers in population growth predictions for the Grand Traverse region are the projected increases in the area’s senior population. The number of individuals 65 or older in Grand Traverse County will more than double, jumping by 101 percent, by 2040. The region overall will see its senior population jump by 63 percent. A huge spike in seniors will offer business opportunities in the senior care sector, said Matt McCauley, director for regional planning & community development with the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments.
“There are goods and services that older Americans are looking for or need ... and it does present opportunities for business people and businesses looking to expand their market to meet the needs of this population,” McCauley said.
Many businesses already are planning for such a boom time. Last fall, national company Cordia Senior Living launched a $30.7 million development of 109-apartment residences at the Grand Traverse Commons.
Richard VanderMey, fire chief at Peninsula Township Fire Department in Grand Traverse County, said his department has witnessed a significant increase in calls for service from seniors.
“The population is getting older,” VanderMey said. “A lot of people who were at one time summer residents have retired here and converted their summer homes to full-time. As they get older, it increases the responses for medical emergencies ... we have done a lot of lift assists for residents who have fallen and who are not injured but who can’t get back up. We’ve seen a big increase lately.”
Employment in the ambulatory service and hospital industries are expected to double in Grand Traverse County by 2040, according to the Institute. Other economic growth areas identified in the analysis include construction, 39 percent jump in employment by 2040; food services and drinking establishments, 32 percent growth by 2040; and real estate, 34 percent growth in employment by 2040.
The population growth also means roads likely will be much more congested unless there are significant investments in new infrastructure.
“The main north south roads -- Division, Three Mile, Garfield roads -- will be more and more taxed, as will Grandview, Eighth, South Airport,” said Matt Skeels, coordinator at TC-Talus, which performs traffic modeling for local governments. “They are the ones that are talked about the most, and they are going to continue to be talked about.”