Apr 14, 2023 - News

Why They Left: Michigan's economy needs growth to thrive

Illustration of The Spirit of Detroit exiting its usual position.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Lawmakers and experts agree that boosting Michigan's population would create a better environment for businesses and workers.

Why it matters: A stagnant population can't grow the competitive economy that leaders from both sides of the aisle say would improve residents' lives.

  • Michigan's population decline has also cost the state politically. We've lost a congressional representative every 10 years — including two in 1990 — since 1980.

Between the lines: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a task force to address the issue earlier this year but hasn't set a timeline for when it will convene.

What they're saying: Wendy Block, chief lobbyist for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, says to position itself for future economic competitiveness, the state needs to double down on quality, accessible training programs that create career pathways.

  • Block, who serves as the Chamber's senior vice president of business advocacy, points to two state programs as success stories: Michigan Reconnect, which lowers the cost of community college, and the Going PRO Talent Fund, which helps workers earn credentials to help land well-paying jobs.

State of play: "While we've seen moderate growth in areas like per capita GDP, and median household income, poverty levels, we still continue to very much lag in other key indicators, including population," Block tells Axios. "Michigan is becoming a smaller state."

  • "We have a lot of baby boomers but we don't have a lot of other generations, or at least growth with other generations."

By the numbers: Michigan's GDP grew slower than other states in the Great Lakes region in the past year, but is still greater than Wisconsin and Indiana, per data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

  • Illinois (12.7 million people) went from $945,674 in 2021 to $1,033,310 last year.
  • Ohio (11.8 million): $746,617 to $822,670.
  • Michigan (10 million): $572,206 to $620,696.
  • Wisconsin (5.9 million): $368,611 to $401,792.

Of note: Block herself left the state and returned after going to college in Chicago.

  • "There's a lot of young people that are probably in a similar situation, where you have to decide what's going to be fun versus what's going to be practical — I'm a fiscal conservative, so I wanted practical."

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