Oakland County’s recovery keeps chugging along

April 30, 2015
Contact: Bernie DeGroat bernied@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—After adding nearly 80,000 jobs over the past four years, Oakland County continues its solid job recovery as it adds nearly 50,000 more in the next three years, say University of Michigan economists.

Real and projected job gains during the recovery from 2009 through 2017 means that Oakland will have replenished 87 percent of jobs lost from mid-2000 to summer 2009.

In their annual forecast of the Oakland County economy, George Fulton and colleague Don Grimes of the U-M Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy predict that the county will add more than 14,000 jobs this year, about 16,000 next year and more than 18,500 in 2017.

Oakland’s unemployment rate will match the U.S. mark of 5.3 percent this year, before falling below 5 percent in each of the next two years—better than the national average for the first time since 2003.

“The labor force has grown since 2012, although weakly so in 2014,” Fulton said. “We are forecasting that it will continue to grow through 2017, modestly in 2015 and more vigorously thereafter, as improving job opportunities encourage more people to re-enter the labor force in the hope of finding employment.

“On the whole, Oakland’s recovery continues to be supported by a U.S. economy that expands through 2017 and by increasing Detroit Three vehicle sales, as well as by the county’s strong economic fundamentals.”

According to Fulton and Grimes, high-wage professional and business services—”the heart of the knowledge economy”—will account for 38 percent of the job gains (18,600 jobs) in Oakland County over the next three years.

Job growth in this sector will be concentrated in testing labs (5,700 jobs) and engineering services (4,800 jobs).

“Along with company management, which adds more than 1,000 jobs over the next three years, these industries form the core of the white-collar auto industry,” Fulton said.

“By 2017, these three industries will account for nearly 6 percent of all employment in Oakland compared with about 5 percent in 2000 and roughly 3 percent in 1990—a pattern that is a mirror image of the long-term decline in employment in the blue-collar auto industry.”

Motor vehicle manufacturing, which led the early stages of the economic recovery in 2011 and 2012 before slowing to a near-halt the past two years, will see a small rise in job growth over the next three years with an average annual growth rate of a little more than 2 percent. Even still, auto factory jobs will account for less than 3 percent of jobs in Oakland County by 2017.

“Despite the relatively rapid growth in jobs in blue-collar industries since the end of the most recent recession, the story of employment in Oakland County since 2000 has been the shift in concentration from blue-collar jobs to higher-educational-attainment service industry jobs—a trend we see continuing beyond our forecast period,” Grimes said.

In addition to professional and business services, other areas that will see the most growth include: health care (12 percent of the job gains); leisure and hospitality, especially full-service restaurants (11 percent); manufacturing (7 percent); construction (6 percent); retail trade (6 percent); financial activities, especially real estate (5 percent); and wholesale trade (5 percent).

Overall, Oakland County remains among the best local economies in the nation, ranking in the top 10 among 36 U.S. counties of comparable size on a series of measures that indicate future economic prosperity.

“Oakland is especially noteworthy for its median family income adjusted for the cost of living, where it ranks 5th, and for its share of residents employed in professional and managerial occupations, where it ranks 7th,” Grimes said. “Whether we assess Oakland County with respect to how it is positioned in key economic fundamentals across all regions of the United States, or more restrictively here among many of the elite local economies, it is hard not to see the county thriving as time goes on.”

The 30th annual U-M forecast of Oakland County’s economy was sponsored by 10 regional organizations. Its presentation was hosted by the county’s Department of Economic Development & Community Affairs, Oakland Community College and Chase.