Michigan is losing open spaces but gaining in economic growth

HOUGHTON — According to a report of a recent study, between 1982 and 2017 the state of Michigan lost 2,208.1 miles of open space to urban sprawl and development.

The same study also found that the population of the state during the same period was 9,115,196 in 1982. Twenty years later, the population had increased to 10,015,710, and by 2017, had declined to 9,973,114, for an overall growth of 857,918 in that 35-year period, for a population growth of 9%.

While Michigan’s population Increased and open space decreased, the study shows that these statistics are evenly divided across counties.

Houghton County lost 11.1 miles of open space in the 35-year-period, which was not related to population growth. While Keweenaw County showed no loss of open space, Baraga County lost 5.5 miles, none of which was related to population growth; Ontonagon County lost 0.6 miles, but again, was not related to population growth. In the cases of the four counties, the loss of open land is attributed to “consumption, which refers to increase in developed land consumption per capita or per person.”

By contrast, for the same period, downstate Wayne County shows a loss of 84.7 square miles, all of it consumption. At the same time, neighboring Oakland County tallied a loss of 177.7 square miles, 60% of which is related to population growth vs. consumption.

In the 15-year period between 2002-17, the study revealed that Michigan experienced a loss of 425 square miles to sprawl or development. Open space loss is not confined to Michigan.

The March 2022 report, From Sea to Shining Sprawling Sea: Quantifying the Loss of Open Space in America, published by Numbers USA, written by Leon Kolankiewicz, Roy Beck and Eric A. Ruark, looks at decreasing open spaces as a result of development and what it terms “sprawl.” The term “sprawl” is defined as the amount of rural land lost to development, regardless of its attractiveness or density. The report states that that translates into 17,800 square miles of natural and agricultural land being converted during that period into developed land.

The study stated in its executive summary found that between 2002 and 2017 — the period of the most recent government data — the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service identified approximately 17,800 square miles of new sprawl. residential, commercial, industrial, transportation, and other purposes.

The summary states that 67% of rural land loss was related to population growth. About 11,950 square miles of rural land were developed to handle the additional consumption needs caused by the U.S. population having 37 million more people in 2017 than in 2002, the report states, blaming net foreign immigration as the cause of most population growth, “although its role can differ significantly from state to state.”

While the NumbersUSA report focuses on population, consumption and sprawl depleting open space, however, it does not look at economic growth or decline, and it relies on data stretching back 35 years.

IbisWorld, by contrast, focused its study not only on population increase, but on economic factors as well.

Michigan has a population of 9,986,857 and annual population growth of 0.1% over the five years of 2014-19 which ranks 35 out of all 50 U.S. states according to IbisWorld. IBISWorld provides industry research on thousands of industries worldwide.

In the same five-year period, however, while the state showed a population growth rate of just 0.1% to rank 35 in growth, Michigan’s Gross State Product rose to $474 billion, or increased1.9%, to rank 19th in the nation, with and increase of 259,885 businesses in the same period.

IbisWorld reports that businesses in Michigan employed a total of 24.2 million in 2018, with average annual employment growth of 2.6%. The top three employment sectors include Health care and social assistance, Retail trade and Professional, scientific, and technical services while the unemployment rate across the state in March 2020 was 5.3%. Michigan’s GSP in 2019 reached $473.9 billion, with growth of 1.9% over the five years to 2019. Michigan’s GSP growth ranks 19 out of all 50 US states. GSP is a measurement of a state’s output, or the sum of value added from all industries in the state. It is a common indicator used to track the health of an economy.

Across Michigan, the largest employment sector is healthcare and social assistance, accounting for 685,678 jobs, a 2018 growth rate of 0.7%, while manufacturing showed a growth rate of 2.2%, making that sector the No. 2 in the state with 657,448 jobs.

These statistics do not show Michigan to be in a stellar economic condition, however. According to Rich States, Poor States, Michigan is currently ranked 16th in the United States for its economic outlook. It is a forward-looking forecast based on the state’s standing (equal-weighted average) in 15 important state policy variables. Data reflect state and local rates and revenues and any effect of federal deductibility. But at the same time, the state currently ranks 30th in the United States for its economic performance. This rank is a backward-looking measure based on the state’s performance (equal-weighted average) in three important performance variables shown below. These variables are highly influenced by state policy.

Published annually by the American Legislative Exchange Council Center for State Fiscal Reform, Rich States, Poor States is used by state lawmakers across America to make critical policy decisions that protect hardworking taxpayers.


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