If you‘re looking for a happy outlook for life in Northern Michigan, check out the recent economic forecast issued by the Grand Traverse Area Chamber of Commerce, which predicts a steady four percent growth rate for the region through 2010.
Of course, one person‘s good news is another‘s pain in the bum, since the promise of more growth will also mean more traffic, sprawl, crime and demands on our infrastructure (such as it is). More sewers, cops, teachers, road projects, commercial eyesores, and ultimately, more taxes. Enjoy.
But in the main, life is good here and it looks like it‘s going to stay that way for some time to come. Even though our future prosperity augers plenty of sprawl-related problems, you can still fly down most any cross-country ski trail in the region and see barely a soul out there in the quiet woods... everyone else is safely sequestered at Meijer‘s, WalMart, or in front of their TV where they belong, leaving the best portions of the region to those of us who care to make the trip.
Predictions for 2004:
You‘ll see more refugees from California moving to Northern Michigan as the world‘s seventh largest economy takes a major hit. With Governor Arnold faced with the task of cutting the Golden State‘s budget by a whopping 30 percent, people will start fleeing California, driven out by a rise in crime and a degradation of its school systems. We‘ve already met newcomers here from San Diego, Los Angeles and San Josè, and can only imagine there will be many more. They‘ll liven up the place.
Real estate will keep going up. The Midwest still has some of the lowest housing rates in the nation and people with money to burn will start piling on: wealthy people fleeing California, loaded retirees flocking to northern condos, economic growth luring professionals from Detroit or Chicago... Even celebrities such as Eminem are moving here to lakeside getaways. It‘s a good news/bad news situation. Great for baby boomers looking at a retirement nest egg; not so good for their broke kids.
The next environmental battle is sure to be the proposal for a coal-powered electrical plant in Manistee, with its 400-foot smokestack spewing 450 tons of ash in the direction of Traverse City each day. Funny, but who would ever have dreamed that the region‘s extremely small but vocal corps of citizens and environmentalists would have won such major victories (or at least a draw) over issues such as the Petoskey bypass, development along the Crystal River, the Hartman-Hammond Bridge, the Ice Mountain water-bottling plant, Cadillac‘s proposed tire-burning plant, the big box store development in Bear Creek Township and other ill-conceived projects? Do we want a coal-burning power plant in Northern Michigan? Put it on the hit list.
In all the talk about bailing Michigan out of its $900 million budget shortfall, we‘ve heard little about the City of Detroit from Governor Granholm, but inevitably, that colossal, money-gobbling behemoth will have to be addressed.
It‘s a strange place. I was downtown last month at a restaurant called Hockeytown where all of these overweight guys were running around in red & white pajamas with the names of hockey players on their backs -- the very picture of bubba-stupid prosperity. But, just down the street, the sidewalks were covered with trash and most of the town looks more in touch with the third world than Guatemala City.
Too bad we can‘t sell Detroit to the Chinese, who currently have money to burn thanks to a $103 billion trade deficit in U.S. dollars being funneled directly through the earth to Beijing via WalMart and all of the other big box stores loaded with Chinese goods. China and our NAFTA friends have already vacuumed 160,000 manufacturing jobs out of Michigan -- 18 percent of our state‘s factory base that is expected to never return. Let the Chinese have the empty shell of the Motor City -- they can turn it into an economic trade zone filled with silk scarves and electronic goodies that will make Detroit the fix-up wonder of the ages.