By Laura Oblinger
Economic indicators like unemployment rates, stock prices or consumer confidence levels can be tricky, even misleading statistics. Typically issued on a wide scale to reflect the economic condition of a country, state or region, they don’t always reflect the reality of smaller communities or even neighborhoods that can be uplifted – or left behind – in the economic cycles of a larger area.
This month’s Traverse City Business News looks at some of the more-reliable local indicators that communities use to measure their micro economies – including real estate and construction data. Both are relevant gauges for a region’s economic condition. Fortunately, these numbers are encouraging for the Grand Traverse area.
Grand Traverse County’s property values surged by an estimated $9 billion-plus last year – more than 3 percent. That doesn’t match the percentage growth of some of the region’s boom years in the 1980s and ‘90s, but it’s an upward trend over the past three years and a welcome turnaround from the steep pullback from the Great Recession. It’s also important because it represents a much-needed uptick in local construction, a sector that suffered so badly after the housing/financial plunge, combined with a steadily growing real estate market.
There are positive spin-offs from that as well. When people are building new homes and businesses or investing in older ones, it not only helps the construction sector but related fields such as plumbers, painters, roofers, landscapers, furniture and home improvement stores, appliance and electronics sales…the list goes on.
The local real estate market is even more encouraging. Year-to-date sales for existing homes through June of 2015 in the 5-county region reached an eight-year high, according to sales data from the Traverse Area Association of Realtors. Home sale prices have rebounded past pre-recession levels. Our area continues to grow as a national destination. It’s seeing more young professionals relocate here for the outdoor lifestyle, an influx of retirees and all sorts of people in between. Our strong housing/real estate market is a positive economic indicator for our region, and property owners can feel confident about their ROI in the community.
But things can change quickly – just as they did in the financial unraveling of 2008. Our challenge going forward is to maintain the commitment to what’s brought us what we enjoy today – our unique natural amenities, a solid community infrastructure, safe streets and neighborhoods and an active and engaged business sector.
These building blocks have served us well and enticed plenty to make Northwest Michigan their newfound home. But they didn’t happen by accident and they certainly weren’t free. It’s imperative that we continue to commit the resources necessary to preserve, protect and grow the community we have. Nothing will turn our positive economic indicators around quicker than poorly funded schools and local governments, a shrinking pool of civic leaders, poorly maintained infrastructure or water quality problems with our precious Great Lakes. We must protect the investments everyone’s made in the Grand Traverse region, to ensure our indicators stay pointed in the right direction.
Laura Oblinger is the Executive Director of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org