Jan 12, 2024 - News

Growth co-chair: Michigan's population won't grow

The stage of the Detroit Policy Conference.

Growing Michigan Together co-chairs John Rakolta Jr. and Shirley Stancato on stage at Motor City Casino Hotel's Sound Board. Photo: Samuel Robinson/Axios

The co-chair of Michigan's commission to grow the state said Thursday that he doesn't believe it's possible to reverse our shrinking population.

Driving the news: The Detroit Policy Conference began with a remarkable admission by the Republican co-chair of the state's population effort led by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

  • "By 2050, we'll be lucky to be the same size state as today," Walbridge CEO John Rakolta Jr., who was appointed by the governor last year, said on stage to Detroit News columnist Nolan Finley.

Why it matters: It's still unclear how recommendations from the population council's report could be implemented, and who's responsible for implementing them.

The intrigue: While this year's policy conference focused on growing our population and retaining young people, Ann Arbor library trustee Aidan Sova, who served on a work group that supported the population council, was the only person under 30 invited to speak at the conference. The lack of young people named to the council has been a criticism since the body was announced.

  • He said the lack of competitive opportunity and a poor transit system are the first and second biggest reasons his peers leave.

What they're saying: "Michigan's house is on fire," Detroit Regional Chamber president Sandy Baruah told an auditorium crowd Thursday.

Between the lines: Rakolta claimed Thursday that low birth rates, declining foreign immigration and a young population that finds higher paying jobs in places like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco make growing the population a difficult task.

  • Creating prosperity should start with increasing productivity instead of the population, Rakolta said, arguing the state should be able to cut wasteful spending by at least 10%.
  • "This report made a recommendation that we need to consolidate, that we need more accountability," he said.
  • Rakolta said the state could start with shrinking its number of school districts. Michigan has more than 200 districts while Florida, where Rakolta lives part time, has 83.

The other side: "I think if anything, this is a time in which we double down on our investments and move more aggressively," Sova told Axios in response to Rakolta's remarks.

What we're watching: Mayor Mike Duggan raised some eyebrows Thursday when he told reporters that the city is looking at modifying the People Mover. "A potential reconfiguration to make a downtown neighborhood where you can live, work and play is something we'll look at," Duggan said.

  • The mayor also said he also believes the Census Bureau will officially declare that Detroit is gaining population after calling the agency a "clown show" last year over its data.
  • He used U.S. Postal Service data that showed increases in homes receiving mail in his argument that the city is growing.
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