New development projects build up 2018 economic forecast

By: Brendan Losinski | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 22, 2018

 Joe Bauman, president of the Birmingham-Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce, welcomes business leaders and members of the community to the 2018 Oakland County Economic Forecast Breakfast Jan. 19 at the Birmingham Country Club.

Joe Bauman, president of the Birmingham-Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce, welcomes business leaders and members of the community to the 2018 Oakland County Economic Forecast Breakfast Jan. 19 at the Birmingham Country Club.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

BIRMINGHAM — Experts at the Oakland County Economic Forecast Breakfast, held Jan. 19 at the Birmingham Country Club, said the local economy is by and large moving in the right direction.

The event was hosted by the Birmingham-Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce, which encompasses Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township, Franklin, Bingham Farms and Beverly Hills. It hosts the forecast each year to give the public and local businesses an idea of the state of the county’s economic standing for the new year.

“As the chamber likes to say, Oakland County drives Michigan’s economy, and the Birmingham and Bloomfield area drives Oakland County’s,” said Joe Bauman, president of the chamber. “We are doing very well, and with low unemployment, new retail and new construction projects, we think 2018 will be a good year.”

The event consisted of breakfast followed by two presentations.

Paul Taub, the senior business economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, gave the first presentation, on the state of the national economy and its impact on southeast Michigan. He reported that, nationally, the gross domestic product of the United States climbed 2.3 percent in 2017, 1.8 percent in 2016 and 2 percent in 2015. He said the unemployment rate across the country is decreasing, from 5.3 percent in 2015 to 4.9 percent in 2016 and 4.4 percent in 2017.

He warned that there needs to be more national investment in infrastructure and in the education system, and that low income growth is hurting economic growth.

The second of the two presentations came from Matthew Gibb, an Oakland County deputy executive. He shared positive news regarding the state of Oakland County and advice for how to keep the forward momentum going.

“We are coming off the best year in the history of Oakland County,” Gibb said. “We have a three-year rolling balanced budget. Our retirees are fully funded, and we are still in the top 10 (counties) in per capita wealth in the country.”

Gibb credited new businesses coming to or expanding in Oakland County that haven’t historically been economic powerhouses in the region. He singled out the health and life science industry, the advanced electronics industry, and communications and IT businesses as particularly positive sectors for growth.

“We’re not getting huge call centers or new factories. Our investments are coming from diversifying our businesses and Main Street investments,” explained Gibb. “Diversification is the key to becoming recession-proof. We also need to secure young talent. Baby boomers are getting older, while 60 percent of kids from Oakland County are leaving the state for college and not coming back. We need to keep them here, to not only keep bringing in money, but to keep bringing in talent to continue the progress we’ve seen into the future.”

Gibb said there has been movement on two of the three primary locations of concern within the county. The Village of Bloomfield site, located in Bloomfield Township near the border with Pontiac, has sat dormant for years after development stalled due to the 2008 recession. A Menards store is currently open there, and a Henry Ford Cancer Center and a hotel are in the planning stages to go in at the location.

Different options are being considered for the Pontiac Silverdome and Palace of Auburn Hills properties, although no deals have been finalized. There are still no plans for the former site of Northland Mall in Southfield, which closed in 2015.

Bauman agreed that the county is on the right track, particularly in the Birmingham and Bloomfield areas. However, he said there aren’t as many people moving into the area as would be ideal.

“We think housing is very healthy,” said Bauman. “We’re seeing teardowns and rebuilds again. Housing prices are good, but there’s not enough houses available. People want to live here, but there are a lot of older people staying in this community as well, so while we have people who want to come here, there aren’t enough available homes.”

Bauman said the state of the community is strong and that he hopes people will work to keep it that way.

“The public schools continue to be shining examples to the rest of the state in terms of quality and innovative education,” he said. “The stock market has improved — people are more well-off, so more people can afford to live in the Birmingham and Bloomfield area, and the downtown areas continue to attract people to the community.”