Editorial: Region is bouncing back from COVIDMarch 25, 2022
Mar. 24, 2022
Metro Detroit is making a steady and impressive comeback from the devastating economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the balance sheet of encouraging trends versus challenges to overcome, optimism is in the black.
That’s the assessment of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s latest State of the Region report. As much as anything, the assessment speaks to the resilience of Metro Detroit’s business community, and its remarkable ability to adapt to the changes brought on by the pandemic.
On the hopeful side of the ledger, supply chain disruptions have not dampened consumer demand and spending. The appetite for goods and services remains strong.
The challenge of meeting that demand, however, is made difficult by a workforce that is, though growing, still smaller than it was pre-pandemic.
The disconnect between supply and demand is fueling inflation, which is the top worry of Metro Detroiters, even though a solid majority (70%) say they are financially better off today than in the past.
Solving the worker shortage is essential, since the chamber’s report finds a surge in business startups that it expects to continue. Statewide, new business openings were 59% greater in 2001 than they were in 2019.
The turmoil in workplaces and classrooms over the past two years is settling down, as schools commit to remaining open and businesses have adapted to flexible schedules and work-from-home options.
The region’s large development projects are continuing, including General Motors’ Factory Zero and Orion Assembly Plant, Ford’s Michigan Central Depot renovation in Corktown, and Bedrock’s Hudson site skyscraper.
But the new model of working will stress many of the existing office buildings, many of which will have to be repurposed.
There are roughly 220,000 job openings in Metro Detroit. The talent isn’t there to fill them, despite the willingness of employers to shape working conditions to meet employee needs and demands.
Just as it was before COVID, developing skilled employees for today’s jobs and those of the future must be the region’s top priority if it expects economic growth.
After decades of decline, the populations of both Detroit and the region are growing, if slowly (2% for both).
And though incomes are up and unemployment is down, racial inequities persist. Upward mobility is still harder to achieve for Blacks in the region than for Whites.
While Blacks make up 78% of Detroit’s population, just 10% of its employer businesses are Black-owned. Median income in Detroit is half that of the region.
Meanwhile, the Asian population is soaring in the region, up 45% since the last count.
The biggest worry for the region over the next year is inflation — rapidly rising home prices and rents risk creating a homelessness crisis — and increasing interest rates could slow business investment.
Still, considering what Metro Detroit has been through over the past two years, the state of the region is much better than might have been predicted.