Does Detroit's revival mean job losses for Oakland County?

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click to enlarge Does Detroit's revival mean job losses for Oakland County?
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Relations between Oakland and Wayne County have not always been tense, but the hot debate surrounding a regional transit plan sure hasn't benefitted city-suburban ties.

Now that the proposal for a $5 billion transit program (which would include rapid transit buses from Oakland County suburbs to Detroit) is nearly dead in the water, the lack of cooperation between the two counties has been a major focus for public commentary. In a recent Bridge report, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans accused Oakland County of “feeling pinched,” suggesting it's because it’s losing business as employers leave the suburbs for the glamor of revitalized downtown Detroit.

“Oakland County has been run very, very well and had a tremendous ride. But history is cyclical and things change,” he said. “If I were Oakland County, I would have concerns about what that means, how that bodes for Oakland County.”

Oakland County's communications director, Bill Mullen, however, vigorously disputes this. In a charged statement to Bridge Magazine, Mullen asserts that the "us versus them" narrative between Detroit and its surrounding metropolitan communities lacks substance — but also goes on to call Dan Gilbert's downtown businesses a "cartel."

"The premise that jobs are fleeing the suburbs to downtown just isn’t true. Has the (Quicken Loans founder Dan) Gilbert cartel squeezed some suburban companies to come downtown? Absolutely. Have some companies gone downtown on their own because they want to help revive the city? Of course. But those are only jobs from the suburbs with no net-gain for the region, which defies the definition of regionalism."

To dig deeper, Bridge enlisted Kurt Metzger, the mayor of Pleasant Ridge and director of firm Data Driven Detroit, to look at data from the US Census Bureau from the years 2015 and 2016. Broken down by zip code, areas of Wayne County's Detroit, Highland Park, and Dearborn all saw an uptick in job growth during the infancy of Detroit's post-bankruptcy economic upswing, whereas specific areas in Oakland County cities like Troy, Livonia, Auburn Hills, and Madison Heights have seen some significant job loss.

With an aging population, Metzger says Oakland County's talent pool may be squeezed if Detroit's revival continues on its current trajectory. By 2025, Oakland County will have more residents over the age of 65 than under the age 18, according to Metzger. “We must be able to attract a young, educated workforce and our far-flung suburban job centers are not the answer,” he said. For Oakland County though, the future strength of the local economy might not be through isolation but rather integration with its Wayne County neighbors.

To see the full list of employment winners and losers, you can read the in-depth report at Bridge.

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