Recap of the Automotive Insights Conference sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago–Detroit Branch, Detroit Association of Business Economists, and WardsAuto

By Martin Lavelle

On January 12, 2017, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Detroit Branch, the Detroit Association of Business Economists (DABE), and WardsAuto hosted the inaugural Automotive Insights Conference. The conference was an expansion of the DABE’s annual Bob Fish Memorial Automotive Luncheon. As did the luncheon, the conference provided an opportunity for auto industry analysts to share their insights and forecasts for the coming year. The expanded conference format allowed for additional presentations that covered powertrain production schedules and upcoming regulatory requirements for new vehicles.

Sales Outlook

Haig Stoddard (WardsAuto) said that new light vehicle sales reached 17.5 million units in 2016, eclipsing the previous record of 17.4 million units set in 2015. The surge in new light vehicle sales seen in the fourth quarter of 2016 was correlated with the aggressive incentives offered by auto companies. New auto sales have now increased for seven consecutive years—the longest such streak since before the Great Depression. Against this backdrop, Stoddard forecasted a slight step back in sales to 17.3 million units in 2017.

Consumers are in a better position to enter the market for new vehicles, contended Paul Traub (Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago–Detroit Branch). He showed that consumer sentiment has been improving, indicating the people are becoming more open to buying new vehicles. In addition to the aggressive incentives offered by auto dealers, loans with longer terms than normal (typically lowering the monthly payments), falling household debt, and fairly easy access to auto credit are facilitating new car purchases. Stoddard and Traub argued the pent-up demand for new vehicles stemming from the Great Recession has been satisfied.

Stoddard’s long-term sales outlook called for a further slide in light vehicle sales in 2018 followed by a rebound. While Stoddard’s outlook did not include a recession, he indicated that if a mild recession were to occur, new light vehicle sales would be 1.5 million to 2.0 million units lower four years from now. Stoddard said the long-run trend for new light vehicles sales would reach 17.0 million units by 2025. That sales level would then become the new standard for whether or not it was a good year for new light vehicle sales. New light vehicle sales will exceed long-run expectations if consumer demand for the latest vehicle technology accelerates. In contrast, new light vehicle sales will fall short of long-run expectations if consumers are enticed by deals for used vehicles, young people continue to delay household formation (on account of student debt and other reasons), and telecommuting becomes even more popular than it is today, among other factors.

Future Direction of Vehicle Production

Little to no growth in new light vehicle production is expected for the U.S. over the next few years, with gains made elsewhere, according to Stoddard and John Sousanis (WardsAuto). Stoddard predicted that North American production will rise over 500,000 units over the next seven years because of increased production of small cars and crossover utility vehicles in Mexico and lower production in Canada. Sousanis also said he projected the light vehicle production share of cars and trucks to stay the same globally over the coming years, but these shares are anticipated to vary more by region. Turning to his forecasts for auto parts manufacturing, he said that more than 50% of the growth in powertrain production over the next seven years will occur in China. Moreover, internal combustion engine displacement and the average number of cylinders in a vehicle should continue to move downward, but remain relatively higher among vehicles sold in the North American market. Slightly more diversification among transmission types is expected among future vehicles, stated Sousanis.

The diversity in transmission production will partially result from manufacturers employing different technologies to comply with the federal government’s corporate fuel economy (and emissions) requirements by model year 2025. (1) Brett Smith (Center for Automotive Research) outlined how the auto industry is trying to meet these standards. By utilizing different technologies, the auto industry is innovating faster than originally anticipated by regulators. For instance, battery cell producers have lowered their cost structures earlier than anticipated—with much less capital and smaller economies of scale than thought necessary. (2) Yet, the current pace of innovation is not sufficient, according to Smith, as the auto industry is still “nowhere near” on track to achieve the 2025 fuel economy goals.

To help manufacturers meet the fuel economy standards, Smith contended that regulators need to provide more incentives and infrastructure that support consumer demand for battery electric and hybrid vehicles. Additionally, the federal government should offer more “emissions credits” for introducing electric or hybrid technologies, off-cycle technologies, (3) and similar innovations in their vehicles than at present. In general, Smith said further discussions about the timetable for achieving the 2025 fuel economy targets should be held between industry representatives and federal regulators. In response to some of Smith’s points, Sousanis said perhaps the federal government might consider differentiating fuel economy standards by vehicle class (e.g., subcompact, mid-size and standard sport utility vehicle).

Concluding the conference was a conversation between Dave Andrea (Center for Automotive Research) and Joe Anderson (TAG Holdings). The conversation centered on the leadership style of Anderson, who serves as TAG Holdings’ chairman and CEO, and his 30-plus years of experience in the auto industry. Anderson said he always learned a lot about each business he purchased before setting expectations for his staff. Those expectations focused on the following aspects of the business: product quality, cost, technology, and delivery.

Focusing on the first item on his list, Anderson said he believes quality control systems should be installed before the production process begins. This way the quality control process won’t be perceived as just a corrective experience. According to Anderson, quality control processes, while costly in the short run, will have long-term positive impacts on throughput and financial performance. In closing, Anderson advised those in the audience to design and engineer their products to fit their consumers’ preferences.

Conclusion

Consumers are in a more favorable position to buy vehicles today than they were shortly after the Great Recession. This has boosted analysts’ short-term forecasts for automotive sales. However, the long-term sales outlook is less certain. While there’s proven demand for the latest vehicle technology, especially among young consumers, they may delay their new vehicle purchases because many of them have yet to form their own households. On the production side, growth is expected in Mexico and China. But not much production growth is expected for the U.S. Vehicle producers are striving to hit federally mandated fuel economy (and emissions) standards by model year 2025, but this goal currently seems unattainable. Despite producers’ ability to innovate more quickly than expected, they remain “nowhere near” on track to hit the 2025 fuel economy targets. More dialogue between auto producers and regulators is needed to ensure that the fuel economy standards are met in a timely and reasonable fashion. Finally, greater dialogue between management and workers, as well as between automakers and consumers, can help improve product quality and customer satisfaction.

Important Findings from the Reinventing Our Communities Conference: What’s Happening in Detroit Versus Other Cities across the Country

By Martin Lavelle

In my previous blog post, I discussed some of the comparative analysis on Philadelphia and Detroit that I did before (and after) the Seventh Biennial Reinventing Our Communities Conference—which took place on September 21–23, 2016. Here I want to recap what was shared at the conference. I got a lot out of attending this conference, which focused on urban economic development. The conference afforded me the opportunity to compare what’s happening in Detroit with what’s occurring in the other cities. More specifically, I learned much about how other cities are tackling issues such as affordable housing, workforce development, and the use of vacant land and buildings. And I considered how these strategies might be applied in Detroit or compared them with what’s already under way in Motown. What follows are some of the general takeaways I gleaned from the conference. Please note that throughout the conference, several panels occurred concurrently; I’ll be reporting only what I observed in the panels I participated in.

Day 1

The conference opened with a panel that discussed building an inclusive, transformative economy. The panel centered on the idea of inclusion, particularly as it pertains to an urban economy. Cities are often incubators of growth. But panelists argued cities must remain affordable, so that their populations, specifically, their lower-skilled segments, can benefit from urban economic growth. Also, the panelists reiterated that investments in different types of infrastructure lead to better employment and income outcomes. Finally, the panel contended that the largest barriers to inclusive economic growth are ineffective coordination or the lack of coordination between different levels of government. Southeast Michigan’s current bus system immediately came to mind as an example of ineffective regional policy. (1)

The first day of the conference concluded with a panel that discussed how institutions that anchor certain communities can address social issues better and boost local economic growth even further. Drexel University—which helps anchor the University City neighborhood in Philadelphia—is taking a significant step toward these goals with its Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships. The primary goal of the Dornsife Center is to build social cohesion by addressing instability that originates from problems in families, neighborhoods, and institutions. To do this, it provides enrichment classes, community meals, workforce development programs, and educational programs for students from pre-K to college. To me, what’s happening at the Dornsife Center sounds similar to what Detroit’s Neighborhood Service Organization is doing at its Bell Building. In closing, the panelists agreed that multiyear grants don’t bring sustainable changes to communities; more permanent programs are needed to provide long-lasting positive changes to communities in need.

Day 2

My second day of the conference began with a panel that examined where education and employment opportunities intersect. After experiencing a decline in its adult enrollment, Monroe County Community College in Michigan has shifted gears in order to engage more high school students and graduates, according to one of the panelists. Its career technology center (CTC) includes an innovation and entrepreneurship center and provides week-long programs that expose students to the technology used at the CTC. It is hoped that this exposure will steer participants toward good career pathways. Monroe County Community College also offers a “middle college program” that allows students to earn a high school diploma and an opportunity to earn college credits that can be put toward an associate’s degree in a health science or STEM (2) field. (3) As another panelist shared, in Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley Career & Technology Center is preparing students to join the workforce in a different fashion. The center’s curriculum is based on industry suggestions made through a forum of occupational advisory committees. Moreover, the center’s equipment mirrors that of an industry setting. However, such a setup is expensive, which has led the center to seek funding from private sources. A representative of the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN) explained how it is educating students previously disengaged from school because of a major life event and placing them into service industry jobs. In order to graduate from PYN, students must earn one industry certificate or credential. To track its own effectiveness, PYN follows up with former students one year after they’ve graduate to see if they are employed and have advanced in their jobs. PYN’s tracking of graduates has succeeded because it has used effective ploys to keep in contact with graduates, such as providing them monthly transportation passes in exchange for information on their employment status.

The next panel I sat in on during the second day looked at how vacant land can be reused in lower-income neighborhoods. “Pop-ups” are a fairly novel way to use vacant space and show the space’s potential if something permanent were to move in. In some cases, truly temporary pop-ups are welcomed, while in others, pop-ups that have the potential to become permanent fixtures are preferred. MILES.CITY works with tenants and landlords to bring retailers into spaces temporarily. While in their pop-ups, the retailers are educated on how to become financially viable and how to cultivate their business while minimizing risk. According to the founder of MILES.CITY, the average length of time retailers pop up in a vacant space is around ten days. That said, as another panelist noticed, Philadelphia has beer gardens pop up in vacant spaces and remain in those spaces if development isn’t ready to occur.

Efforts to revitalize vacant land in Cleveland and Memphis were also highlighted in the panel. Students at the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative at Kent State University design projects to be installed in vacant spaces. Community members assist these students by providing feedback on the planning before the projects are actually set up in the neighborhood. The aim of these projects is to foster social cohesion through welcoming design and interactive spaces. The challenges confronting the design collaborative include the lack of resources and the inability to deal directly with the roots of social problems that trouble the community. In Memphis, MEMFix projects are trying to revitalize parts of the city; typically, these projects are one-day events that showcase a city block’s potential. MEMFix’s success led to increasing involvement from local government officials. MEMFix staff learned that revitalization efforts are more effective when the neighborhood’s leadership is strong and the revitalization efforts are close to other such efforts (clustering breeds success). One of the panelists, the executive director of the Community Development Council of Greater Memphis, reported that ioby (a “crowd-resourcing” tool) has been effective for building small-scale projects, training neighborhood teams, and facilitating collaboration across income groups.

A panel held during the afternoon of the second day highlighted three cities that have transformed their previously unattractive business climates. Philadelphia almost went bankrupt in the 1990s, but is regaining its reputation as the “Workshop of the World,” with the creation of multiple innovation hubs within the city that relate to one another. As one example, Philadelphia is turning its North Third Street into “Nerd Street” (N3RD Street). Additionally, despite its loss of population and business over the past few decades, St. Louis is still seen as an attractive area for talent, innovation, and entrepreneurship because of its strong universities, relatively low cost-of-living, and civic and nonprofit leadership. Chattanooga was cited as the dirtiest U.S. city in the 1960s, but through renovation and beautification initiatives and the establishment of the CO.LAB (Company Lab) public/private incubator and city-wide broadband service, Chattanooga improved its economic prospects. Chattanooga and Detroit are similar in many ways. Detroit is overcoming its own negative reputation through similar initiatives to renovate and beautify many of its neighborhoods. Public/private partnerships are expected to play an important role in many of these initiatives. Additionally, city-wide broadband will eventually become a reality in the Motor City. The hope is that all these efforts will draw more residents to Detroit and allow the city to return to its entrepreneurial roots.

Day 3

The final day of the conference began with stories about the transformation of several communities across the country. These stories covered a wide range of strategies that are being used to improve cities’ economic prospects. Pittsburgh’s East Liberty Development, Inc., figured out where crime existed in its mixed-income neighborhoods and hired off-duty police officers to patrol their properties, which improved the attractiveness of these properties. Helena, Arkansas, created a start-up incubator that, with the help of graphic designers, improved the marketability of its downtown. The New Hampshire Community Loan Fund provides financing to residents in manufactured housing co-ops so they can purchase the home’s land. Rochester, New York, lowered its poverty rate through investments in health care that included coordinating existing services, leveraging community data, increasing support for early childhood education, and confronting structural racism and trauma. In Minnesota, First Children’s Finance subsidized rent payments for child care providers inside school buildings; through this financial support, child care became more widely available within rural communities. And lastly, The Food Trust in Philadelphia improved residents’ access to high-quality food by providing more nutrition education and increasing the supply of healthy foods in corner stores.

Economic revitalization and philanthropic investment in small and mid-size cities was the focus of the third day’s morning panel. The president and CEO of the Danville Regional Foundation argued that the “arc of growth” should intersect with the “arc of opportunity.” He claimed that when these two arcs do intersect, poverty becomes less concentrated, efforts to recruit and retain businesses are more effective, downtowns are revitalized without sacrificing affordable housing, and leaders are developed. Also, the panel discussed the difference between charity and philanthropy: The key distinction between the two was that charity addresses suffering by itself, whereas philanthropy tackles the causes of suffering. The panel also indicated that business recruitment efforts now include expectations of civic contributions. In Detroit, the Kresge Foundation is doubling down in its philanthropic efforts to help Detroit progress in its rebound. Specifically, over the next few years, Kresge will focus on building up neighborhood capacity; creating comprehensive, integrated business opportunity areas; improving early childhood development; and promoting artistic and cultural programming.

The conference concluded with the presidents of the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Cleveland, and Philadelphia sharing their perspectives on the Federal Reserve’s role in transforming communities. One thing the presidents said the Federal Reserve could do is increase small business representation at community development meetings. Another thing the presidents noted the Federal Reserve could do was more intensely study the connection between income inequality and economic growth. A subject the presidents explained the Federal Reserve should strive to improve on (though some progress has already been made) is studying transition periods (shifting from recessions to recoveries, for example) within the economy and the driving forces behind them. The presidents also said they have noticed a growing disconnect between human capital development and the demands of modern employment.

References
(1) See http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2015/02/06/robertson-car-commuter-detroit/22988565/.
(2) STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math.
(3) See http://www.monroeisd.us/departments/curriculum/middlecollege/.

Comparing the City of Brotherly Love with Motown: Reflections on How to Effectively Transform Urban Economies

By Martin Lavelle

When I think of Philadelphia, the following subjects come to my mind: Benjamin Franklin, Betsy Ross, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. Also, being a sports fan, I think of what a great sports city it is: There’s quite a passionate fan base for its professional teams, as well as Big 5 college basketball at the Palestra. Admittedly, as someone who works in and studies Detroit, it doesn’t naturally occur to me to compare Detroit and Philadelphia like I would Detroit and Pennsylvania’s other major city, Pittsburgh, with its historical reliance on one manufacturing sector, steel. However, as I looked more deeply into Philadelphia’s history, I found myself drawing multiple parallels between the Motor City and the City of Brotherly Love.

On September 21–23, 2016, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, other Federal Reserve Banks, and additional sponsors and supporters convened the Seventh Biennial Reinventing Our Communities Conference. The theme of this year’s conference was how to transform our economies. The conference’s sessions covered topics such as how to increase access to capital, how to supply a greater stock of affordable housing and address workforce needs, and how to make philanthropic foundations play a more effective role in communities’ economic transformations. This conference provided an opportunity for me to learn about initiatives in other communities and compare them with developments in Detroit. This will be the first of two blog entries in which I discuss the conference and some of my own analysis inspired by it. Here I will draw some historical and current comparisons between Detroit and Philadelphia. In my follow-up blog post, I will recap the conference and compare Detroit’s efforts to transform its economy with ongoing efforts occurring across the country.

Background

As part of my usual preparation for a conference (especially when a city tour is included), I did a statistical comparison of Detroit and Philadelphia. The table below shows the statistical similarities and differences I found most interesting between the two cities.

portland-chart-1

Note: MSA means metropolitan statistical area.
Source: QuickFacts Beta, U.S. Census Bureau.

The population figures stand out for many reasons. First, it’s easy to forget that back in 1950, when their populations peaked, Detroit and Philadelphia were similarly sized cities. Nowadays, just six and a half decades later, Philadelphia has almost two and a half times as many people as Detroit. Back in the middle of the twentieth century, the population of each city made up around 57% of its respective metropolitan area. But as of last year, Philadelphia’s population share of its metropolitan area (26%) was noticeably larger than Detroit’s population share (16%) of its metropolitan area. The fact that Philadelphia’s population increased over the past 15 years boosted the divergence in population trends. Over the period 2000–15, Philadelphia added almost 50,000 people, while Detroit lost 274,154 people. In terms of demographics, Philadelphia is much more diverse. Also, a higher percentage of Philadelphia’s population has attained a bachelor’s degree or higher—thanks in part to the University City neighborhood, anchored by the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, and the presence of many other institutions of higher learning within the city’s limits. Given the divergence in demographics, the difference in home values isn’t surprising, but it still jumps off the page.

Philadelphia’s Financial Challenges

Like Detroit, Philadelphia has encountered fiscal challenges. And like Detroit, Philadelphia’s financial problems simmered for many years before boiling over in the early 1990s. The City of Brotherly Love became the first U.S. city to impose an income tax when it did so in 1939. (1) Philadelphia’s income tax remained in a range of 1.0% to 1.5% until the 1960s, when it started to increase, eventually reaching 3.0% in 1970 and almost 5% in 1985. (2) The increase in the city’s income tax rate was one of the leading factors in city residents deciding to leave for suburban communities. Philadelphia’s fiscal crisis peaked in 1990–91 when a structural budget deficit of $154 million was revealed, with expectations of deeper budget deficits in future years. (3) The city received financial assistance in the form of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA). PICA sold bonds on Philadelphia’s behalf. It also required the city to adopt a five-year financial plan that had to be approved in order to gain access to capital markets and state funding. (4) Led by Mayor Ed Rendell, the city followed its five-year plan while privatizing selected services, introducing more competitive bidding for city projects, and freezing wages for city employees, all of which helped lead to Philadelphia’s recovery in the late-1990s. (5) Philadelphia also began lowering its commuter tax in 1995, converging city and suburban residents’ respective tax burdens. (6) It has been estimated that increases in Philadelphia’s city wage tax cost the city 207,000 jobs from 1973 to 2003. (7) Two separate tax commissions created in the 2000s concluded Philadelphia’s tax system was outdated and needed to be reformed. (8) In 2014, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce released a public/private collaborative plan with the aim of organizing growth-based activity in and around Philadelphia. The chamber’s plan called for improving the city’s competitiveness, producing a well-educated workforce, creating an environment for business growth, and enhancing Philadelphia’s infrastructure. Such efforts will have a familiar ring to Detroiters too.

West Mount Airy: A Gift to Philadelphia from Detroit

The conference began with a tour of Philadelphia’s West Mount Airy neighborhood, one of the nation’s first intentionally racially integrated neighborhoods. The effort to preserve racial diversity within West Mount Airy was led by West Mount Airy Neighbors (WMAN). WMAN was founded in 1959 to deal specifically with the issue of racial integration. (9) One of the founders of WMAN was George Schermer, who tried to organize a similar effort in Detroit before coming to Philadelphia.

After Detroit’s 1943 Belle Isle uprising, Mayor Edward Jeffries formed an Interracial Commission and appointed Schermer as its director. (10) In the early 1950s, Schermer lobbied for an integrated housing development in Detroit’s west side. The development was to be called Schoolcraft Gardens. The Schoolcraft Gardens development attracted private funding and the United Auto Workers (UAW) as a partner. (11) Unfortunately, multiple forces prevented the integrated development from taking shape. First, the neighboring, all-white Tel-Craft homeowners association opposed the Schoolcraft Gardens development. Also, later on, a different Detroit mayor, Mayor Alfred Cobo, vetoed the approval of the development project. Soon afterward, the Interracial Commission was dissolved and replaced by the Commission on Community Relations, whose members would be appointed and could be removed without cause by the mayor. (12) Not surprisingly, when the City of Philadelphia offered Schermer the opportunity to head its newly created Commission on Human Relations, Schermer left Detroit. (13)

Under Schermer’s leadership, WMAN fought housing and education policies that advocated for segregation. WMAN and the neighborhood itself consisted of high-achieving, well-educated, progressively minded people, who were the demographic they looked to attract to the neighborhood. One might argue this allowed integration to work, whereas Detroit saw comparatively less educated groups across different races compete for similar jobs and economic standing, putting the groups at odds with each other.

Impressively, the commitment to diversity in West Mount Airy remains strong. Since 1980, at least 40% of West Mount Airy’s residents have been African Americans. (14) According to Sarah Zelner, who presented background information about West Mount Airy during the conference tour, the neighborhood has a strong LGBTQ presence, in addition to being diverse in terms of race and education. Efforts to maintain the neighborhood’s diversity and affirm its commitment to open dialogue include the long-running Mt. Airy youth baseball league and, more recently, monthly conversations about racial issues. In the evening of the day of the tour, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare shut down and turned into a street fair that showcased West Mount Airy’s diverse restaurant community.

All that said, the neighborhood isn’t without its challenges. Between 1950 and 2010, West Mount Airy lost around half of its population. This loss in population has impacted the dynamics of the neighborhood in many ways, especially in terms of its educational offerings. The high school located in West Mount Airy closed in 2013—a direct result of the population loss, as well as more-affluent students enrolling in private schools in other neighborhoods. In addition, while the overall racial diversity of West Mount Airy has been maintained, African Americans have been clustering closer to the East Mount Airy and East Germantown neighborhoods, which are both predominantly black. (15) While traveling through the area, I noticed a contrast between West Mount Airy with its homes constructed of stone native to the area and East Mount Airy with housing stock of relatively poorer quality. To combat population loss and preserve the neighborhood’s identity, West Mount Airy is trying to attract more immigrants, highlighting the neighborhood’s cultural history and mixed small business community as selling points.

Gifts in Return from Philadelphia? Possible Lessons for Detroit

The background material I read on Philadelphia’s West Mount Airy neighborhood discussed housing density (as measured, for example, by homes per city block) and its correlation with racial integration. The material cited multiple studies that suggested lower housing density is more amenable to achieving greater racial diversity. (16) This might be one lesson from Philadelphia’s experiences that Detroit might want to apply as it remakes itself. The Motor City is seeking to create dense and diverse population centers within its borders, as it once had decades ago. Part of this goal is being achieved by removing blight. But as neighborhoods are reorganized, city officials may want to keep in mind how racial integration was achieved in Philadelphia and not make the housing density of newly configured neighborhoods too high. Striking the right balance between population and housing density to achieve better racial integration and higher-level services for all citizens than at present will be a challenge, but Detroit can look to some of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods for some examples to follow.

Widening the focus back to the entire city, I think the topic of city residents’ tax burdens should be explored in greater depth. As mentioned previously during my review of background material on Philadelphia and as discussed somewhat during the conference, Philadelphia has reformed its tax system in order to have the tax burden of its citizens be more similar to that of residents in the surrounding suburbs. This is yet another lesson Detroit officials might learn from Philadelphia in order to draw more people to reside within its borders. Indeed, Detroit may want to look to reform its tax system as well. When studying the tax burdens of the largest city in each state and Washington, DC, (17) the total tax payments expected from Detroiters as a percentage of their income rank in the top five. (18) When breaking down tax payments by category, Detroiters’ income tax burden ranks near the top for families making $50,000 or more, and their property tax burden is the highest among the states’ largest cities and Washington, DC. (19) While Detroiters’ sales, use, and gasoline tax burdens rank relatively low, significantly high auto insurance premiums more than make up for it. Detroiters pay more than twice as much as the next city (New Orleans) and over three and a half times more than Philadelphia, which ranks tenth. (20) Current Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has proposed legislation that would create an auto insurance product specific to Detroit, though this proposal has its critics. (21)

Following what initiatives are and aren’t working in other cities and informing city officials and stakeholders about the results of those different initiatives is important to Detroit’s rebound. This is one of the main reasons why I attended this year’s Reinventing Our Communities Conference. The Detroit Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago serves the function as information gatherer for the mayor’s Post-Bankruptcy Working Group, as well as the city’s group that works on affordable housing efforts. Efforts to strengthen communities in Detroit and elsewhere through philanthropic, private, and public partnerships have become more widespread in recent years. The Federal Reserve—especially the Detroit Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago—has played a major role in bringing different types of organizations together generate solutions that will benefit those communities for years to come.

Read my next blog entry to get more details on the conference panels that I participated in.

References
(1) See p. 3 of http://economyleague.org/uploads/files/783716581668902685-the-sterling-act-a-brief-history.pdf
(2) Ibid.
(3) See p. 5 of https://www.philadelphiafed.org/-/media/research-and-data/publications/business-review/1992/brso92rl.pdf?la=en.
(4) See p. 1 of http://www.picapa.org/docs/SRFYP/SRFYP_FY16FY20.pdf.
(5) See http://www.nytimes.com/1994/05/22/magazine/mayor-on-a-roll-ed-rendell.html.
(6) See p. 31 of http://www.philadelphiafed.org/research-and-data/publications/business-review/2003/q2/brq203ri.pdf.
(7) See p. 27 of http://www.philadelphiafed.org/research-and-data/publications/business-review/2003/q2/brq203ri.pdf.
(8) See p. 15 of http://www.centercityphila.org/docs/CCR14_employment.pdf.
(9) See p. 42 of Barbara Ferma, Theresa Singleton, and Don DeMarco, 1998, “Chapter 3: West Mount Airy,” Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 29–59, https://www.huduser.gov/Periodicals/CITYSCPE/VOL4NUM2/ch3.pdf
(10) See p. 1 of https://libdigital.temple.edu/pdfa1/Oral%20Histories/AOHWMPJZ2015030001Q01.pdf.
(11) See p. 76 of Lloyd D. Buss, 2008, “Chapter 2: City Influences Religion’s Response,” The Church and The City: Detroit’s Open Housing Movement, University of Michigan, PhD dissertation, https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/61748/ldbuss_1.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
(12) See Buss (2008, p. 77).
(13) See Ferma, Singleton, and DeMarco (1998, p. 42).
(14) The share of African Americans residing in West Mount Airy was 41% as of the 2010 U.S. Census.
(15) See http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/mount-airy-west/.
(16) See Ferma, Singleton, and DeMarco (1998, p. 41).
(17) See pp. 12-21, 24 of http://cfo.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ocfo/publication/attachments/2014%2051City%20Study.final_.pdf.
(18) This ranking does not apply when examining families making less than $50,000 per year. A family is assumed to be made up of two income earners and one school-age child. See p. 13 of http://cfo.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ocfo/publication/attachments/2014%2051City%20Study.final_.pdf.
(19) See pp. 16, 31 of http://cfo.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ocfo/publication/attachments/2014%2051City%20Study.final_.pdf.
(20) See https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/studies/expensive-cities-car-insurance/.
(21) See http://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2016/03/23/detroit-insurance-cut-rate-policy/82194396/.

Auto Insights Conference

Co-Sponsors Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago-Detroit Branch, DABE and WardsAuto

Automakers and suppliers have long faced the need to adapt to ever-changing global competition, customer preferences and industry regulation. Up to now, automakers have been resilient in their ability to adapt, controlling costs while at the same time adhering to customer-driven performance requirements.

As always, a new year brings with it many uncertainties and questions for the automotive industry. Have light vehicle sales already peaked or will they continue to rise? What does the sales outlook mean for North American production volumes in the short and long run, respectively? Moreover, how might possible changes to CAFE regulation impact engine technology? Will possible changes in trade regulations be a positive or a negative for the OEMs and their suppliers? In an effort to get insights into these questions and much more, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago—Detroit Branch and Detroit Association of Business Economists (DABE) together with WardsAuto will host a half-day conference on these important issues and much more.

The conference will be held Thursday, January 12, 2017 at the Detroit Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The program will begin with registration at 8:30 AM and conclude at 2:00 PM with an optional tour of the Detroit Branch Cash Visitors Center. The cost will be $30 for members and guests and will include a continental breakfast during registration and lunch at noon. A complete conference agenda is included on the conference registration page.

You can register and pay online by clicking here. Please register by Tuesday, January 10, 2017 to place your name on the security list for admission to the Fed facility, and bring a picture ID for entrance.

I believe this conference will be a worthwhile addition to this season’s DABE program offerings that I am sure you will enjoy. I hope you will plan to attend and bring a friend. As always, I want to thank you all for your continued support of the DABE and the D.A.B.E. Board wants to wish you a very Happy Holiday Season. I look forward to seeing you on January 12, 2017.

To see the Agenda and Register Now!

How Tight is Michigan’s Labor Market?

By Martin Lavelle

Michigan’s labor market continues to recover from the Great Recession that ran from December 2007 through June 2009 and its own recession that started four years prior to that. Michigan’s unemployment rate peaked at 14.9% in June 2009, coinciding with the end of the Great Recession. Since that time, Michigan’s unemployment rate has dropped steadily, reaching 4.5% in August 2016. The last time Michigan’s unemployment rate was this low was in January 2001, just before the much shorter and milder 2001 recession. (1)

While Michigan’s current labor market expansion isn’t the longest in its history, (2) the fact that the state’s unemployment rate is now lower than that of the nation makes one wonder how much longer it can last. The superior performance of Michigan’s Southeast and Western Michigan Purchasing Managers indexes relative to the U.S. measures and recent indications that auto sales may have plateaued also imply that Michigan’s labor market expansion may be near a turning point. This blog examines some of Michigan’s labor market indicators to assess whether Michigan’s labor market is at or near “full employment.”

Chart: Unemployment Rates, Annual Averages: U.S., Michigan
Analysis
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Source: Author’s calculations using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The chart above shows the annual averages of the U.S. and Michigan unemployment rates, respectively. Since 1976, Michigan’s unemployment rate has generally been higher than that of the U.S., especially during the Great Recession and the severe 1981–82 recession. The two instances in which Michigan’s unemployment rate fell below that of the U.S. came during the mid to late 1990s and in recent months. The fluctuation in Michigan’s unemployment rate helps to show the cyclical nature of the state’s economy, driven by the manufacturing sector, specifically the automotive industry. The lows in Michigan’s unemployment rate came during boom times for the automotive industry and the highs came during rough times. Light vehicle sales volumes hit all-time highs last year and are just below those levels year-to-date in 2016. The majority of auto analysts feel that light vehicle sales will continue to slightly fall off of their 2015 highs in the next couple of years. With the automotive industry having peaked, does that mean Michigan’s labor market has peaked as well?

Historically, another sign of a tightening labor market are increasing wages and salaries. The chart below plots the unemployment rate versus workers’ total wage and salary income in the state.

Chart: Annual Wage & Salary Growth vs. Annual Average Unemployment Rate: Michigan
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Sources: Author’s calculations using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Over the past 40 years, changes in wage and salary income have led changes in the unemployment rate. Michigan’s unemployment rate reached its previous low in 2000, a few years after the rate of growth in wage and salary income peaked. Wage and salary income growth in Michigan bottomed out in 2008, the year before Michigan’s unemployment rate peaked. As Michigan’s unemployment rate decreased after the Great Recession, wage and salary income consistently increased, accelerating in the last two years following some slowing in 2012–13. The pace of wage and salary growth edged higher in 2015 versus 2014, signaling further tightening in Michigan’s labor market. Despite the increase in wages and salaries, however, data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis show that per capita income in Michigan remains about 12% below the national average. Since 1980, per capita income in Michigan has typically been lower than in the U.S. as a whole.

When looking at wage pressures by sector, the story becomes more muddled. The chart below examines the year-over-year percentage change in wage pressures in select employment sectors in Michigan.

Chart: Average Hourly Earnings of Michigan Production Employees by Employment Sector, Year/Year Percentage Change, Not Seasonally Adjusted
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Source: Author’s calculations using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Michigan’s manufacturing sector, especially the automotive sector, led the state into the recovery it currently enjoys. However, after increasing in 2010, wages started to fall during 2011 and into 2012 as the new labor contract with the United Auto Workers (UAW) that created a lower, 2nd tier of wage ranges took effect. (3) After rebounding in 2013–15, wages are lower thus far in 2016 than in 2015, possibly because of the 2015 UAW contract that created a lower starting point for entry-level full-time workers. (4) Plateauing production volumes as light vehicle sales level off may also be a reason for lower wages in 2016.

Some sectors do support the full employment argument with their accelerations in recent months. Since the latter half of 2015, wages have moved higher in the construction and professional and business sectors, respectively. Labor shortages in building construction and within the engineering and information technology fields of the professional and business services sector have helped to create conditions for higher, more competitive wages. Wage increases have persisted in the retail trade sector since 2013. Competitive pressures from McDonalds and Walmart, as well as legislatively mandated increases in Michigan’s minimum wage, have contributed to higher wages in the retail sector. (5)

When a labor market tightens, it also means workers are increasingly hard to find. One unique characteristic of the current labor market recovery is the elevated level of those working part-time for economic reasons or involuntary part-time workers. The chart below shows what percentage of the labor force is comprised of involuntary part-time workers.

Chart: Part-Time Employment as a Percentage of Labor Force, 4-quarter moving average: U.S., Michigan
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Sources: Author’s calculations using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As labor markets expand, the percentage of the labor force that is working part-time falls. In Michigan and the U.S., the percentage of the labor force that is working part-time continues to be higher than during the previous labor market expansion. Interestingly, the difference between the part-time segments of the labor force in Michigan and the U.S. has shrunk after widening in the months leading up to and the year after the conclusion of the Great Recession. Another interesting point is that the gap between Michigan’s current percentage of the labor force that is working part-time and the percentage working part-time in the 2000s is narrower relative to the U.S. This could mean one of two things. One possibility is part-time workers in Michigan are finding increasing success in gaining full-time employment. An alternative possibility is part-time employment was elevated during the 2000s and Michigan’s one-state recession. Therefore, part-time employment as a percentage of the labor force would have been expected to fall since the mid-2000s.

In a tightening labor market, those who found themselves unemployed for a long period of time should find their way back into the workforce. The chart below looks at the percentage of the labor force that was unemployed longer than 15 weeks.

Chart: Unemployed Civilians for longer than 15 weeks as a Percentage of Labor Force, 4-quarter moving average: U.S., Michigan
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Sources: Author’s calculations using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Mirroring the previous chart, Michigan had a greater percentage of its labor force unemployed for more than 15 weeks than the U.S., most likely a result of Michigan’s recession in the previous decade. After peaking in the 2nd quarter of 2010, the percentage of Michigan’s labor force unemployed for more than 15 weeks fell and now equals that of the U.S. Are more previously long-term unemployed workers finding work or are they dropping out of the labor force altogether? Looking at the next chart, which shows the labor force participation rates of the U.S. and Michigan, respectively, we see that Michigan has seen a higher net increase off its lows than the U.S.

Chart: Labor Force Participation Rates: U.S., Michigan
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Source: Haver Analytics/Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Finally, what about discouraged workers? If a labor market is tightening, the number of discouraged workers should be decreasing. The chart below shows discouraged workers as a percentage of the labor force in the U.S. and Michigan, respectively.

Chart: Discouraged Workers as a Percentage of Labor Force, 4-quarter moving average: U.S., Michigan
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Source: Author’s calculations using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Again, the same dynamics are in play from 2003 through the end of the Great Recession, with Michigan’s labor market relatively worse off because of its one-state recession. As shown in the previous chart, the gap between Michigan and the U.S. converged and is now all but eliminated. The current percentage of Michigan’s labor force that consists of discouraged workers equals that seen during the mid-2000s, whereas the U.S. hasn’t reached mid-2000s levels yet.

Conclusion
A strong argument can be made that Michigan’s labor market is at full employment. The unemployment rate is currently below that of the U.S. and nearing historical lows. Also, wage and salary growth is at its highest in almost 20 years, labor force participation is off its post-recession lows, and data focused on the marginally attached to the labor force in different ways indicate those numbers are near or at trend. Some anecdotal reports support the argument as well. Multiple firms have instituted significant wage and salary increases in order to keep their most talented employees, while others are giving prospective employees a second look after rejecting their original job inquiry. Finally, with the auto industry operating at peak production levels and historically high sales levels and the state still significantly dependent on the auto industry, Michigan’s robust labor demand growth may be coming to an end.

Footnotes
(1) We are addressing labor market tightness here, not growth rates, not restoration of past levels of labor force size. Out-sized outmigration of working age population in response to the state’s prolonged downturn in the last decade is being held in the background.
(2) Based on BLS data going back to 1976.
(3) See https://www.chicagofed.org/~/media/others/region/midwest-economy/dziczek-dabe-january-2012-pdf.pdf.
(4) See http://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/chrysler/2015/10/22/done-deal-uaw-confirms-ratification-fca-contract/74380230/.
(5) See http://www.mlive.com/lansing-news/index.ssf/2015/12/michigan_minimum_wage_to_incre.html.

Are Baby Boomers and Millennials Moving Back into Michigan’s Cities?

By Martin Lavelle

Currently, the two most often talked about demographic groups in the U.S. are baby boomers, those born from 1948 to 1964, and millennials, those born from 1981 to 1999. Even though they’re separated by Generation X, baby boomers and millennials have at least one thing in common: their increasing desire to live in cities. Some baby boomers who are also empty nesters feel the best way to stay active is to partake in city life where there’s always something happening. Many millennials prefer city life for the chance to live near a large group of young singles, in effect continuing their college experience.

Michigan offers three urban experiences that rival any in the U.S., with each experience unique in its own way. Detroit is in the midst of looking more like a typical U.S. big city with a light rail line and entertainment district featuring the new Detroit Red Wings arena set to begin operation next year. Also, the construction of additional bikeways, especially popular with millennials, should complement the city’s riverwalk, thriving restaurant scene, and historically renowned Eastern Market.

On the other side of Michigan lies Grand Rapids, whose comeback is a little further along. The transformation of Grand Rapids’ abandoned furniture plants into apartments helped persuade people to relocate downtown, allowing ventures like the city’s ArtPrize competition to succeed.

Finally, there’s Ann Arbor with its blend of unique restaurants and boutique shops located around the University of Michigan. The university’s reputation of drawing young talent has helped persuade nascent entrepreneurs and firms to locate in the area, leading to a building boom that has significantly increased Ann Arbor’s downtown residential inventory.

Is the renewed interest in Michigan’s downtowns, specifically from baby boomers and millennials, translating into population increases in those three cities? A recent blog by Kolko showed that since 2000, baby boomers and millennials have been moving back into downtowns in significant numbers. This blog will look at how the characteristics of the aforementioned cities’ populations have changed recently.

Population Changes

This analysis will compare population changes using Census data from 2000 and 2014. During that time, if we look at the central city area, Ann Arbor saw a small increase (3.3%) in its total population, while Grand Rapids saw a small decrease (-2%); Detroit suffered a substantial decline (-28.5%) in its total population. Looking at each city’s greater metropolitan area, Ann Arbor (1) and Grand Rapids (2) showed double digit increases of 10.5% and 10.4%, respectively, while Detroit (3) experienced a 4.1% decrease in its population. Given the changes in overall population, can we say that baby boomers and millennials (and groups that share their characteristics) are moving back into the cities?

In the chart below, population by age group, we see that young adults (15-24) make up an increasing share of Ann Arbor and Detroit’s population. At the other end of the age spectrum, in all three places and in their respective metropolitan areas, the baby boomer and silent (aged 75+) generations experienced increases in both of their population shares.

Chart 1: Change in Population Share by Age Group, 2000-2014: Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids

Chart 1: Change in Population Share by Age Group, 2000-2014: Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids
Source: Author’s calculations using data from 2000 Census and 2014 American Community Survey (ACS).

As the next chart indicates, 20-34 year olds (millennials) now comprise a greater share of Grand Rapids’ central city population, the opposite of what’s occurred in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area. Ann Arbor’s population share that consists of millennials registered a small increase, also the opposite of what’s taken place in Washtenaw County. Meanwhile, 55-74 year olds (baby boomers) moved back into all three cities (and metropolitan areas). Ann Arbor and Detroit now have a higher percentage of those from the silent generation within their city borders.

Chart2: Change in Population Share by Demographic Group, 2000-2014: Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids

Chart 2: Change in Population Share by Demographic Group, 2000-2014: Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids
Source: Author’s calculations using data from 2000 Census and 2014 American Community Survey (ACS).

The next chart looks at changes in population by education level. Grand Rapids saw a small increase in those with some college experience and a substantial increase in college graduates. In contrast, Washtenaw County saw a modest increase in those with some college experience and a significant increase in its college-educated population, the opposite of what occurred in the city of Ann Arbor. In Detroit’s central city, there were declines in both categories, whereas the Detroit metropolitan area saw a significant increase in those who had at least obtained their bachelor’s degree.

Chart: Change in Population by Educational Attainment, 2000-2014: Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids Source: Author’s calculations using data from 2000 Census and 2014 American Community Survey (ACS).

Chart 3: Change in Population by Educational Attainment, 2000-2014: Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids
Source: Author’s calculations using data from 2000 Census and 2014 American Community Survey (ACS).

The next chart focuses on the number of families presently living in cities. Grand Rapids saw a small influx of families with no children while that number remained relatively similar in Ann Arbor. Both metropolitan areas witnessed robust increases in the number of families without children. Detroit witnessed a massive outmigration of families with children of all age groups from both its central city and metro area. Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids saw significant, but less severe, declines in families with children. In their metro areas, Grand Rapids experienced small increases in families with older children and families with young and old children, while Ann Arbor experienced a moderate increase in families with older children.

Chart: Change in Number of Families by Family Type, 2000-2014: Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids Source: Source: Author’s calculations using data from 2000 Census and 2014 American Community Survey (ACS).

Chart 4: Change in Number of Families by Family Type, 2000-2014: Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids
Source: Source: Author’s calculations using data from 2000 Census and 2014 American Community Survey (ACS).

The next chart looks at population share by race. All three cities saw increases in their Hispanic population, the largest occurring in Detroit. In contrast, all three cities saw decreases in their White population, though Detroit’s was small compared with the decrease in the metropolitan area’s white population. More recent census data suggests that Detroit’s White population increased in 2014 for the first time since the 1950 Census. (4) The Asian-American population grew in Ann Arbor and Detroit, while the African-American population increased in Grand Rapids.

Chart 5: Change in Population Share by Race, 2000-2014: Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids Source: Author’s calculations using data from 2000 Census and 2014 American Community Survey (ACS).

Chart 5: Change in Population Share by Race, 2000-2014: Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids
Source: Author’s calculations using data from 2000 Census and 2014 American Community Survey (ACS).

The final chart looks at household income. Since 2000, the population in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids has increasingly comprised middle- to high-income earners. At the county level in both metro areas, the income distribution has shifted even more toward the higher end. Meanwhile, Detroit’s population still consists of mostly low- to middle-income earners. Comparatively, the counties that make up Detroit’s metropolitan area (5) have seen their income distributions shift away from the middle income brackets toward the low and high ends.

Chart 6: Change in Population Share by Income Decile, 2000-2014: Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids Note: 1 is the highest income decile (greater than $200,000); 10 is the lowest income decile (lower than $10,000). Source: Author’s calculations using data from 2000 Census and 2014 American Community Survey (ACS).

Chart 6: Change in Population Share by Income Decile, 2000-2014: Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids
Note: 1 is the highest income decile (greater than $200,000); 10 is the lowest income decile (lower than $10,000).
Source: Author’s calculations using data from 2000 Census and 2014 American Community Survey (ACS).

Conclusion

There is some evidence that three of Michigan’s most attractive and best-known cities are successfully attracting millennials and baby boomers. By age group, baby boomers and multiple segments of the millennial cohort now comprise a higher share of the populations of Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Grand Rapids. The picture becomes less clear when looking at changes in population by educational attainment and income, with Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor drawing a higher-skilled citizenry.
The most telling chart for me is the one concerning changes in family structure. The number of families with no children grew slightly in Grand Rapids, stayed the same in Ann Arbor, and significantly decreased in Detroit, though at a lower rate than the overall population decline during that time. While those trends are somewhat encouraging, the trends describing changes in the number of families with children are discouraging. Families with school-age children moved out of each of the three cities at relatively high rates, and we saw increases in families with children in the Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids metropolitan areas. The presence of families in cities signals an acceptable standard of living to those considering moving into cities from suburban areas, providing opportunities for cities to grow their populations and thrive.

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Footnotes:

(1) Ann Arbor’s metropolitan area consists of Washtenaw County.
(2) For overall population and population by race figures, the Grand Rapids metropolitan area consists of Barry, Kent, Montcalm, and Ottawa counties. Otherwise, the Grand Rapids metropolitan area consists of Kent and Ottawa counties because of the availability of data.
(3) For overall population, population by race, and educational attainment figures, Detroit’s metropolitan area consists of Lapeer, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, and Wayne counties.
(4) See http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2015/09/17/detroit-white-population-rises-census-shows/72371118/.
(5) For household income, Detroit’s metro area consists of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties because of the availability of data.

Agriculture and the Economy: A View from the Chicago Fed

written by: Paul Traub

On Thursday, May 12, 2016, members of the Detroit Association for Business Economics (DABE) attended a presentation entitled “Agriculture and the Economy: A View from the Chicago Fed” by David Oppedahl, senior business economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Oppedahl highlighted key trends in agriculture and their relationship to the broader economy. Farming and manufacturing of food and bioproducts comprise around 4% of the Seventh District’s economic activity in 2013. And this share has been growing in the past decade.

However, over the past century, agriculture has seen dramatic declines in terms of the number of farms and their workers. These trends have been mirrored more recently in the loss of manufacturing jobs. These changes have been difficult for the Midwest, which has a higher than average concentration in these sectors. Still, there also have been some economic advantages to the region as a result of booming productivity. For instance, corn and soybean yields per acre have about doubled in the past half century.

Productivity improvements have generated more than a doubling of agricultural output (given similar level inputs) since around 1950, meaning U.S. consumers have had to spend less and less on food—from 28% of spending in 1950 to 13% in 2015. At the same time, however, spending on health care has been rising, such that the total consumption of food and health care has remained fairly steady at roughly one-third of consumer spending. An argument can be made that as eating habits became less healthy in the second half of the twentieth century, there was a substitution into spending more on health care than food. So, today’s efforts to promote healthier eating in the U.S. and to grow farm income from local and organic foods in essence aim to turn back the clock on personal consumption patterns.

Another key aspect of agriculture is the role of exports as a vital boost to the income of U.S. producers. In 2015, 13% of the District states’ exports were of food and agricultural products (versus 8.5% for the nation). Until 2014, U.S. agricultural exports had been growing rapidly, in large part due to the expansion of markets in Asia. But in 2015 there was a decline in agricultural exports as the strength of the U.S. dollar and slower economic growth abroad contributed to a narrowing of the nation’s trade surplus in agricultural trade.

Not only has the slowdown in exports affected the profitability of agriculture, but there also has been a compression of profit margins as many prices for agricultural products have fallen more than input costs in the last two years. The USDA projects that net farm income for the sector will fall for a second consecutive year in 2016. This downturn has hit the Midwest hard, as seen in lower farmland values and cash rental rates (see latest issue of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s quarterly AgLetter). On November 29, 2016, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago will hold a conference to examine the agricultural downturn in the Midwest and discuss future directions for farming. Additional information about the conference will be released in the coming months on chicagofed.org.

To view Oppedahl’s slides from his Detroit presentation, please click here.

Summit on Revisiting the Promise and Problems of Inner City Economic Development, Day 1: Setting the Stage by Focusing on Detroit

by Martin Lavelle, business economist

Introduction

In partnership with, the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, Economic Development Quarterly, SAGE Publications and the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), the Detroit Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago hosted a two-day summit on September 15–16, 2015, that studied ongoing economic development efforts within inner city neighborhoods. Experts from academia joined practitioners to discuss new research and programs that have appeared and evolved in recent years. In this blog entry, I will focus on the first day of the summit, which zeroed in on Detroit and its revitalization efforts.

Putting Detroit into Context

William Sander, professor of economics, DePaul University, and consultant, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and William Testa, vice president and director of regional research, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, began the conference by providing insight into Detroit’s population and economy, respectively. Sander noted that in the middle of the twentieth century, many large cities in the United States started to lose population to surrounding suburban communities. Detroit was no exception to this trend: It had lost around two-thirds of its population since the 1950s. However, many cities have begun to grow in recent years, becoming increasingly attractive to college-educated households; this improvement in the business environment helps attract individual firms, supporting the assertion of Harvard economist Michael Porter that cities are ideal locations for industry clusters and other economic activities.(1)

According to Sander, despite the recent movement of some college graduates into Detroit’s trendy Downtown and Midtown neighborhoods, college graduates only make up 12% of Detroit’s population, compared with 34% in Chicago. Then, Sander pointed out that only 10% of 20-something college graduates in the Detroit metropolitan area live in the city of Detroit and that 22% of 20-something college graduates who live in Detroit also work in Detroit. Sander shared his statistical comparison of Chicago and Detroit, which found that households in the Chicago metropolitan area are more likely to live within the city limits than households in the Detroit region. Also, college graduates in Chicagoland are more likely to live in the city than in the suburbs, whereas the opposite is true for college graduates in Metro Detroit.

Testa showed the significant stress Detroit’s economy was exposed to during the 2000s. Similar to other manufacturing-centric cities, such as Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Cleveland, Detroit experienced slower overall employment growth relative to other Midwest cities that possess more of a service-based economy. However, despite its losing millions of units of production in recent years to other vehicle-producing areas, Detroit (and Michigan in general) remains a destination for automakers and suppliers because of its concentration of facilities and talent. Although the Detroit region will most likely continue to contain a significant automotive cluster, employment levels will most likely fail to reach 2000 levels because of firms’ ability to produce more with fewer workers.

Testa argued that the Detroit economy needs to continue building on its automotive cluster while also diversifying into other sectors in which it may own competitive advantages. Those other sectors include logistics, engineering, and business services. Testa noted that multiple regional economic development corporations are trying to take advantage of Detroit’s growing tech sector in ways that other regions and states have for themselves (e.g., Silicon Valley). Such efforts have resulted in improved per capita income and quality of life for residents.

Current State of the City

Summit attendees also heard from Susan Mosey, executive director, Midtown Detroit, Inc., Martin Lavelle, business economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago–Detroit Branch, and John Gallagher from the Detroit Free Press on where Detroit currently stands in its revitalization attempts. All of them expressed great enthusiasm for the efforts that have taken place so far, as well as optimism for what’s to come. Since Detroit filed for bankruptcy in July 2013, a regional lighting authority was formed and began to replace old streetlights with new LEED(2) streetlights, a regional water & sewer department authority was formed to improve the efficiency of water/sewer operations, emergency response times have improved,(3) new transit buses were purchased,(4) and programs to address Detroit’s aging housing stock(5) and blight(6) were introduced.

Significant investment was already occurring in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood before Detroit filed for bankruptcy, and it has only accelerated since. Mosey showed the different kinds of development projects that have been completed and those now in the planning stage. Until recent months, Midtown Detroit, Inc., has focused on renovating existing space into mixed-use properties with retail space on the ground floor and residential space above it. With residential occupancy rates at almost 100% and consumer demand still high, new building projects such as businessman Dan Gilbert’s planned Brush Park project(7) are set to take off, Mosey noted.

icic_lavelle image 2Image 1: Chicago Fed Business Economist Martin Lavelle presenting at the Summit. Photo taken by Bill Testa.

Still, as I noted at the conference, Detroit’s revitalization efforts must overcome many challenges. The investment taking place in Detroit is occurring in only select neighborhoods. The majority of Detroit’s neighborhoods are plagued by low home values, which dissuade potential new residents from moving into them. Also, concerns over the quality of public services and schools remain deterrents to population increases. Another hindrance is the absence of a more extensive, intermodal public transportation system that would better serve and connect Detroit residents with potential places of employment and the surrounding area in general.

Detroit: Up Close and Personal

One of the attractions of the summit was the chance for attendees to take a tour of some of Detroit’s areas. Along with representatives of Midtown Detroit, Inc., the Chicago Fed‘s Detroit Branch staff (including Desiree Hatcher, community development and Michigan director, Community Development and Policy Studies Division; Paul Traub, senior business economist; and Martin Lavelle, business economist) guided the tour around Detroit and provided greater insights into Detroit’s turnaround.

The bus tour highlighted Detroit’s cluster activity, including the food cluster present in Detroit’s Eastern Market where the tour stopped first. Dan Carmody, president, Eastern Market Corporation, expounded on how Eastern Market’s role in the city’s rebound continues to grow. Tour goers learned about Eastern Market’s initiative to provide healthy foods (especially for students) and food education, as well as its continued promotion of local food entrepreneurs. Tour goers also learned about Eastern Market’s involvement in projects such as the extension of the Dequindre Cut bikeway and other infrastructure improvements that will better connect the market with other parts of Detroit.

icic_carmody image 1Image 2: Eastern Market Corporation President Dan Carmody presenting during the Summit’s Tour of Detroit. Photo taken by Bill Testa.

After leaving Eastern Market, the tour got a closer look at areas where investment is occurring. Attendees were able to see some of the finished and proposed projects in Midtown that Mosey highlighted in her earlier presentation. One highlight of the Midtown tour was the TechTown campus that now supports Detroit’s automotive and logistics clusters as well as the efforts to bring back Detroit’s main retail corridors. Upon leaving Midtown, the tour made its way to the historic Boston-Edison neighborhood—an area that has rebounded significantly since it was marked as a “demonstration zone” for concentrated revitalization efforts in 2011 by then-Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. (8)

icic_traub image 3Image 3: Senior Business Economist Paul Traub describing the current state of Detroit during the tour. Photo taken by Bill Testa.

The final part of the tour reminded attendees of the challenges that Detroit’s revitalization efforts face. Tour attendees were exposed to neighborhoods where little to no investment has occurred, resulting in blight, low population density, and poor infrastructure. Attendees also saw marks of Metro Detroit’s sometimes scarred past when division and discrimination overshadowed attempts at regional collaboration. The tour ended with a drive down Jefferson Avenue along the Detroit River, which provided tour goers the opportunity to see the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood (which has benefited from burgeoning investment) as well as the beautiful Detroit Riverwalk. Overall, the tour showed the progress of Detroit’s turnaround, as well as the challenges that must be met if the city’s stakeholders want to continue its revitalization.

Conclusion

Based on Michael Porter’s criteria for inner cities, Detroit could be regarded as a developing economy because of its low local skill levels, limited access to capital, shortcomings in technology, poorly developed public service departments, and engagement in monopolistic behavior, which retarded cluster development.(9) In addition, using Porter’s work, one could argue Detroit’s economy possesses many competitive disadvantages, which include the aforementioned attributes as well as the city’s poor quality of infrastructure and attitudes concerning the city.(10)

However, Detroit is beginning to reverse its competitive disadvantages, as the presentations at the summit and the tour of the city showed. Detroit’s Downtown and Midtown neighborhoods have become strategic locations in which to conduct business. Moreover, Detroit’s industry clusters increasingly interact with other regional clusters, overcoming past regional rivalries. Also, city government has become less of an impediment to cluster development, encouraging and convening forums to engage in dialogue that centers on improving Detroit—as Porter has recommended for other developing economies.(11)

The overarching goal of the first day of the summit was to show the Detroit as it actually is today. As evident from the summit discussions and the tour, many parts of Detroit are trending upward, generating much enthusiasm for the city’s prospects following its emergence from bankruptcy. However, city stakeholders must confront numerous persistent challenges in order for the entire city to enjoy what’s transpiring in those particular neighborhoods.

References
(1) See https://hbr.org/1995/05/the-competitive-advantage-of-the-inner-city.
(2) LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, and is a green building certification program.
(3) See http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2014/10/detroit_residents_wait_less_fo.html.
(4) See http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2015/09/17/vp-biden-speaks-detroit-public-transportation/32564385/.
(5) See http://www.detroithomeloans.org/.
(6) See https://www.theblightauthority.com/.
(7) See http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2015/05/06/gilbert-brush-detroit/70887884/.
(8) See http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2011/07/dave_bing_detroit_works_projec.html.
(9) See Michael E. Porter, 1998, “Clusters and competition: New agendas for companies, governments, and institutions,” Harvard Business School, working paper, No. 98-080, March, p. 24.
(10) See p. 61–65 of https://hbr.org/1995/05/the-competitive-advantage-of-the-inner-city.
(11) See Porter (1998, p. 34).

The state of the Detroit Public Schools discussed at the Detroit Association of Business Economists meeting

By Paul Traub

On Thursday, April 21, 2016, the members of the Detroit Association of Business Economists (DABE) were presented with an excellent overview of the current financial state of the Detroit Public School (DPS) system. The presentation entitled “Detroit Public Schools—Financial Crisis” by Craig Thiel provided an in-depth analysis of how DPS arrived at its current situation, with operating liabilities of $1.9 billion and total debts in excess of $3.5 billion. According to Thiel, a senior research associate with the Citizens Research Council of Michigan (CRC), it took decades of declining student enrollments and five state-appointed emergency managers since 2009, each unable to solve DPS’s financial problems, for the City’s school system to fall into a state of financial crisis. In addition to ballooning deficits, mounting legacy costs, recurring cash shortage problems, and deteriorating facilities, DPS has experienced declining enrollment since the early 1970s, reaching an annual rate of 10.5% between FY2003 and FY2014.

Declining enrollment has become one of the most significant problems for DPS because of the per-student funding model used by the state. As schools lose students, they also lose funding. The problem with this model is that as enrollment declines, revenues fall almost immediately while expenses fall very slowly. This is because public education is personnel-intensive, with about 60% of a district’s general fund budget going to pay instructors. For example, if a school loses 10% of its students across multiple grade levels in a single year, it would lose the per-student funding associated with those students almost immediately. However, the school still needs to provide classroom instruction for all of the remaining students, which might require the same number of teachers as before. In addition, the fixed cost of maintaining the facility would not likely change. This results in an operating deficit for the school.

In addition to the operating shortfalls, the schools need to continue to fund accrued legacy costs for pensions and health care. Adding to the problem, DPS has been funding its declining enrollment and legacy cost deficits through borrowing for years. As enrollment declines, there is less per-student funding available to cover the required debt and legacy payments. According to estimates, in FY2016 only 40% of the per-pupil allocation will be available for classroom instruction. The rest will go to paying legacy costs and to service debt. Less money for the classroom has resulted in a decline in academic performance, prompting those parents who have the means to do so to seek alternatives for their children’s education, further exacerbating the decline in DPS enrollment. Today, only about 40% of all Detroit K-12 students attend Detroit Public Schools. The state of Michigan legalized chartered schools in 1993. By 1995, the first chartered schools opened in Michigan. However, because of Michigan’s per-student funding model, if a student leaves a traditional public school to go to a charter school, the funding follows the student, while DPS retains all the legacy cost. This results in increasing the debt payments per student, resulting in even less money for public school classroom instruction.

A recent proposal approved by the state senate would permit Detroit to adopt a model used by other distressed school districts in the state. Under the proposed model, the DPS would be separated into two parts. One part would be responsible for the debt, and the other would be responsible for educating the students. The plan calls for the creation of a Community School District with an elected board. The district would operate under a Financial Review Commission to review the actions of the elected board and a Detroit Education Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing academic performance. The Michigan House of Representatives is still working on the plan. However, Thiel stated that time to act was yesterday and until the structural challenges currently faced by DPS are fixed, enrollment will continue to decline and the problems of the DPS will only get worse.

To see a copy of Thiel’s presentation click on “Detroit Public Schools–Financial Crisis.”

State of the global economy discussed at the Detroit Association for Business Economics meeting

On Thursday, March 17, 2016, members of the Detroit Association for Business Economics (DABE) were presented with an extremely in-depth presentation entitled “State of the global economy: Recovery, flat, or decline?” by Dr. David Teolis, senior manager, economic and industry forecasting—international, General Motors (GM). Teolis is a veteran economic analyst, with numerous years of experience analyzing international markets and forecasting automotive sales for GM. He has previously served as the president of the DABE.

Teolis provided his analysis on the following topics:
• The global financial crisis and how it exposed structural vulnerabilities (problems that cannot be addressed through monetary policy)—which have contributed to the weakness in the global economic recovery, especially for emerging markets and commodity exporters;
• Low inflation expectations and the risk of deflation in some economies;
• The divergence of monetary policies around the globe (for example, as the U.S. struggles to normalize interest rates, other major economies such as the Eurozone and Japan are implementing negative interest rates, which is contributing to volatile currency markets); and
• The plethora of political risk, which may complicate the assessment of these economic concerns.

Teolis highlighted numerous explanations for the recent slow pace of global economic growth (such as supply-side headwinds, a debt overhang, and a savings glut) that have been offered by world-renowned economists. However, Teolis said he thinks that “secular stagnation,” as posited by Lawrence Summers, may be the primary factor for weak global growth. Teolis stated that he believes that structural reforms around the world are needed to provide a positive shock to the baseline economic outlook while also providing a limit to the downside risks. While low interest rates and accumulating pent-up demand could provide a cyclical economic rebound, Teolis argued that the implementation of structural reforms will better position the global economy for strong and sustainable growth. Absent progress on structural reforms, the economies of the world could remain mired in a period of secular stagnation, with continued volatility in commodity and financial markets. Moreover, the myriad of political uncertainties continue to pose many risks to the outlook for the global economy, said Teolis.

To see the entire presentation by Dr. Teolis, please click here.