Aerospace, Physicians Make Economic Impact

Planes, trains and automobiles

I was having dinner with a rocket scientist recently (OK, he actually is an aerospace engineer, but that is as close to a rocket scientist as you get without working for NASA), and the conversation got around to what he is doing living and working in Michigan.  After all, it is more than 60 years since bombers were being built at Willow Run, and it’s even longer than that since the heyday of the Ford Tri-Motor aircraft. So I was surprised to learn that this individual is, in fact, employed by a Michigan company that is engaged in the design of aircraft engines. As our conversation continued I also learned that despite the overwhelming dominance of Michigan’s automobile industry, there are a small handful of aerospace companies in Michigan engaged in building aircraft parts, avionics, and engineering. Michigan’s small aerospace industry is almost entirely located in southeastern Michigan—mainly Wayne County—and in the Grand Rapids area. Thus it came as no surprise when I learned later on that one of my neighbors works at an avionics manufacturing plant and that he commutes to Kent County for that job.

Aerospace is only a small fraction of the total transportation manufacturing sector in Michigan. Although automobile manufacturing has been declining in recent years, the latest census bureau count still counts more than 212,000 people employed in transportation equipment manufacturing, which includes cars, trucks, railroad engines and rolling stock, motor homes, trailers, aircraft, and related equipment. Of that total, 3,700 people work in Michigan’s tiny aerospace sector. This puts Michigan at number 22 on the aerospace manufacturing roster, behind the obvious leaders—California (75,000), Washington (48,000), Texas (39,000), and Kansas (36,000).  This also puts Michigan behind three of our four Great Lakes neighbors. As illustrated below, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana all have larger aerospace sectors than Michigan. Only Wisconsin trails with fewer than 500 employees.

Although the numbers are small, aerospace pays well.  Nationally, the average annual salary was $59,500 in 2003, but annual wages vary considerably from state to state.  In 2003 Connecticut led with an average of more than $131,000; Arkansas at slightly more than $37,000 and Missouri at just under $17,000 were at the other end of the list.  Michigan aerospace workers earned an average of almost $52,000 in 2003.

Aerospace fits nicely with the advanced skills and high-tech operations that are being promoted as the future of manufacturing in Michigan. Now that Boeing headquarters has relocated to Chicago, maybe it’s time for more of the aircraft parts and equipment manufacturing to be relocated in this part of the country as well.

Michigan;s physician shortage

While the nursing shortage throughout the nation has been widely reported, it is also likely that anyone who has tried to get a doctor’s appointment, especially to see a specialist, has probably found that it is taking longer to get in. Current thinking is that there is a physician shortage in Michigan just around the corner. But don’t plan on going elsewhere for medical care, shortages will be cropping up around most of the nation, but the Lansing area is likely to fare reasonably well.

The main issue is a combination of demographics and the long lead time it takes to educate and train a new generation of physicians.  Although the nation’s population keeps growing, the number of new physicians entering practice has not kept pace. Only one new medical school has been opened in the United States in the past 20 years, and the established medical schools have not been expanding much.  Adding to the problem is the aging baby boom generation, which will require more medical services than when they were younger and healthier. The physician workforce is aging as well, and a substantial number of physicians are planning to retire during the next decade.

Anticipating that a serious problem is on the horizon, some efforts have been made to understand the issue better and to do something about it. A panel of medical school leaders and other interested parties was established more than a year ago to look into this.  The result has been two examinations of the physician workforce in Michigan. The first study was conducted on behalf of the Michigan State Medical Society by Public Policy Associates and was released in August 2005. Taking into account the growth of Michigan’s population coupled with anticipated physician retirements and changing practice patterns and work efforts among physicians, this study predicted a shortage of as many as 6,000 medical and osteopathic physicians across Michigan by the year 2020. A second study, which was commissioned by the medical schools, released

preliminary figures earlier this year and came to similar conclusions,

predicting a shortage of up to 4,500 by 2020.

The good news for the Greater Lansing area is that we have a relatively high concentration of physicians in the region due to our two major healthcare systems and two medical schools at Michigan State University (human medicine and osteopathic medicine), both of which are expanding their enrollments. The downside is that it will be five to 10 years before the impact of these additional medical students will be seen in clinics, medical offices and hospitals. More details about the predicted physician shortage and efforts to address this issue will be the subject of future columns.

Laurence S. Rosen, PhD is the director of health programs at Public Policy Associates, Incorporated, a Lansing-based public policy research, development and evaluation firm with a nationwide clientele.








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