Economic Innovation Group Identifies Greater Lansing’s Strengths and Weaknesses
By most measurements, mid-Michigan’s economy is improving. Unemployment is down, job growth is up and the housing market is improving.
But a deeper look at tri-county communities reveals significant differences in how cities and townships are positioned for prosperity. Some are hemorrhaging businesses and show continuing declines in employment. In others, business activity is surging and job growth is strong.
The region’s economic strengths and weaknesses emerge in a detailed nationwide analysis by the Washington-based Economic Innovation Group, which has produced ZIP Code level data for Ingham, Clinton and Eaton counties characterizing education, housing, incomes, employment and business trends. From the numbers gathered between 2010 and 2013, together with the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 American Communities Survey, it has developed a distressed communities index.
“A ZIP code analysis gives you a micro look at where the jobs are growing in the county and the state, and which neighborhoods are benefiting,” said Kenan Fikri, the consulting firm’s manager for research and policy development. “It’s especially relevant in the Midwest where they’ve had long experience with de-industrialism and a rate of business closings that has outpaced new business opening.”
In mid-Michigan, most of the economy falls between the poles of prosperous and distressed. As a result, the economic performance for most of the communities in the three counties is mixed.
In Haslett, for example, there are positives:
- Just 5 percent of the population has no high school degree.
- The housing vacancy rate is 3 percent.
- Only 36 percent of adults don’t work.
The median income ratio compared with other communities in the state is 116 percent.
But there are challenges with the core economic indicators in many mid-Michigan communities, and Haslett is no exception. Between 2010 and 2013 the change in employment is plus 7.4 percent and the change in business establishments is minus 5.2 percent. In short, the trend shows fewer jobs and business in what EIG identifies as one of the stronger communities in the region.
“These are a really good indicator of economic activity and optimism and of new jobs coming down the road,” Fikri said.
Lansing, like most cities in Michigan, faces greater economic and social challenges than its neighboring communities. And like virtually all large cities in the state, it is characterized as “distressed” based on EIG’s core measurements.
Lansing struggles with education, housing and poverty.
Data aggregated from the city’s five ZIP codes indicate:
- Thirteen percent of adults lack a high school degree.
- That 29 percent of residents live in poverty.
- A housing vacancy rate of 13 percent.
- The percentage of adults not working is 43 percent.
- The median income ratio is 73 percent.
But by some key measures, the city surpassed its neighbors. Between 2010 and 2013 the change in employment was positive – 5 percent. And the change in business establishments was off just 1 percent. This business indicator was better than Eaton Rapids (-6.7 percent), St. Johns (-3.6 percent), Waverly (-3.5 percent), Mason (-2.9 percent) and Grand Ledge (-2.2 percent).
Yet even within Lansing, there are significant variations by neighborhood. In the 48933 ZIP code – the city’s downtown neighborhoods – the change in employment was the strongest in the region – 20.9 percent ahead of second place DeWitt (19.5 percent).
And compared with other cities in the state, Lansing, though challenged, is progressing. Flint is ranked as the most distressed city in Michigan and ninth worst in the nation. As for others in the state, Detroit is tenth, followed by Pontiac, Saginaw, Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. Dearborn, Warren and Grand Rapids are ranked only slightly better than Lansing.
Altogether, EIG gathered data for 37 ZIP codes in the three counties. Some community boundaries overlap and there is wide variation in total population – 135,090 for the six ZIP codes identified as Lansing, the largest; Mulliken in Eaton County, with a population of 1,760, the smallest.
EIG’s 1-to-100 index identifies communities with a score of 20 or below as prosperous. Those with scores of 80 and higher are classified as distressed. By EIG’s measurements, DeWitt with a score of 0.9 is the region’s least distressed community and ranks 871 among the 877 ZIP code geographies in Michigan. Other prosperous communities include: Wacousta (4.9), Westphalia (9.4), Bath (9.6), Grand Ledge (9.9), Okemos (14), Mason (18.3) and Holt (20.2).
Although Lansing faces the income, education and housing challenges of many cities, economic growth in the region is shared broadly without the wide gulf between the haves and have-nots, Fikri said. “Everyone seems to participate in the economy. That’s not the case in other areas. If you look at Detroit, one of the most distressed cities in the country, it is ringed by some of the most prosperous counties in the country.”
He added that for the business community, micro information about the health of a community’s economy is a powerful tool.
“The private sector is interested in where growth happens. Those opening a business are more likely to locate where jobs are growing quickly, where people are moving in and where people are opening businesses,” Fikri said.