The change of the calendar that accompanies the holiday season is often considered a good time to take stock in one’s personal and professional place in the world. Similarly, it’s an opportunity to look at where our community has been in the recent past, and where we’re headed in the foreseeable future.
One of the worst things a community can do is to fail to honestly assess its strengths and weaknesses, thereby creating a distorted view of its economic and social reality. We’re fortunate to be part of a region that – despite all its good press and national accolades in recent years – hasn’t made the mistake of becoming too full of itself. We match our staunch civic pride and involvement with equal parts desire to become even better, creating a healthy balance between community accomplishment and a continuing drive for improvement.
It’s a formula that works. Looking at some of the region’s leading economic indicators, this fall’s jobless rate for the 10-county area fell below 4 percent – representing our lowest unemployment figure since before the Great Recession. Our tourism sector is coming off a robust 2016 year, the region’s retail, service and professional sectors remain strong and manufacturing is steady – all positive trends as we look to the new year.
But no one’s releasing party balloons. The region’s labor force is thin. Many skilled, good-paying jobs remain unfilled. Both the business community and public policy leaders are focused on ways to increase job opportunities and continue to build our labor pool needed to further expand the local economy.
Likewise, our area’s housing and real estate market has roared back from the 2008-09 collapse. Home sales in the 5-county region continue to surge and are headed to record numbers in 2016 in terms of volume and sale prices. Our homes and properties have growing value. But the community takes a more pragmatic view. There’s a greatly increased focus locally on the individuals and families in our region whose goal of safe, functional and affordable housing is still out of reach. Real estate developers and their partners are expanding housing options to address this bottleneck, including TraverseCONNECT’s new housing development along Garfield Avenue in Traverse City.
Our local and state governments are also displaying an increased sense of urgency in dealing with long-term public pension issues, debt obligations and infrastructure needs that threaten long-term prosperity. After years of the proverbial can being kicked down the road, our local and state leaders are rolling up their sleeves and taking on these complex and costly issues, often at their own political and professional peril. The solutions won’t be easy or inexpensive. But even mustering the will to address these down-the-road challenges is a major step in the right direction.
Area residents can take be encouraged heading into 2017 and beyond that while our region is in a good place, its business and political leaders are working hard to make it even better. It’s inspiring to be part of a community that understands that good isn’t always good enough – and a drive to do better is always better.