Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Calling a bottom to most anything (excluding roller coasters and limbo contests) is an extremely tough thing to do. It always seems like there is at least a little farther to fall. This is why I'm not about to call a bottom for Michigan, but rather consider the implications of what it means if we have passed our low point. Michigan continues to lead the country in unemployment, but the state notched another decrease in unemployment to 14.3% in January. That is a lot of unemployed people, but since last year when unemployment in the state was about 15%, there has been a steady decline in this painful metric for the last several months.

On top of this, the automobile industry (in terms of U.S. sales volumes) shows maintained signs of picking up (with Ford seriously picking up in volume) and the rate of decline in home prices is declining (the overall prices are also declining, but the pace is slowing. It's like at the bottom of the sledding hill when you're still going down but slower).

Michigan faces continued massive budget gaps but considering the events of the last year, this budget gap is considerably smaller than several states with better unemployment and housing numbers. Kwame Kilpatrick may actually end up in jail and spring is within reach. The Red Wings are back in the playoff hunt and there is a chance that Dontrelle Willis will land a regular spot in the Tigers' pitching rotation this year. If we have experienced the Michiganocalypse, is the future guaranteed to be bleak? Maybe, but maybe not.

It often takes years for the full effects of massive job loss and reduced tax base to hit a state and its inhabitants. Public services over time degrade and eventually cease, and simple things that are annoying but we take for granted like road repairs become more infrequent and untended. Without knowing what might happen in some future years because of the difficult past couple years, I very much look to the future with hope. This hope is primarily based on the knowledge that despite a year (starting almost a year ago today) in which everything went wrong for the state, we're still here. This is a message that I, and others, have fallen back on before, but that does not make it any less significant to me. People still go out to eat in restaurants and Best Buy is still filled with people buying things that they should be buying from Amazon. Traffic isn't half as bad as many major metropolitan areas, but the roads are anything but abandoned. Just the other day I saw the new sign for the battery manufacturer A123 systems go up on a building off of I-275, and Dow keeps plugging away in Midland creating jobs in the state. Quicken Loans, while smaller than when it was at its peak, is maintaining its commitment to move it's headquarters into the Compuware Building downtown. The city of Detroit is considering a crazy but awesome Hail Mary of shrinking the city to match the reach of city services to the actual population (I know this will likely never happen but it's never been so clearly discussed by anyone in Detroit leadership as Mayor Bing). Houses may not be selling for as much as the sellers would like, but "Sold" signs are popping up at this time of the year all over the place.

When I imagine the worst specific things that could happen to the state and people of Michigan, most of them have happened in the past 1-2 years. Things will remain tough for some time, but we're a tough group (well, most people except me. My girlish hands are all kinds of scratched and bruised from home repairs). Things can always be better, but I'm thinking that just maybe we've seen the worst. That is the kind of statement that drives my mom absolutely crazy because you're asking for trouble. Screw you, trouble. We've proven we can take you.


Kelly at QuickenLoans said...

Ken - great post. It was a refreshing read. We Michiganders are certainly a tough group.

We're excited to move downtown in a few months and be a part of what we hope is a revitalization of the buzzing, beautiful city we all know and love.

Thanks for including us!

Ken said...

Well that certainly is a weird comment from Kelly but certainly welcome. I wonder if Quicken has someone reviewing various internet mentions to throw in a good word. Weird, but I'll take it.