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Grand Traverse County Growing vs. rest of Michigan

Census shows more leaving Michigan than arriving, with a few exceptions

Posted by Ted Roelofs | The Grand Rapids Press August 11, 2008 06:30AM

In a state where most traffic goes one way -- out of Michigan -- Grand Traverse County is a notable exception.

In contrast to counties in West Michigan and across the state, a net of 646 residents moved there from July 2006 to July 2007, according to census data.

They include couples like Beryl and Jim Striewski, long-time Houston residents who bought a house just south of Traverse City. They considered Ashville, N.C., and Denver.

But they decided this pristine corner of Michigan was the best fit.

"We were looking for quality of life, as opposed to how our life had been," said Beryl Striewski, 52, a free-lance photographer. Jim Striewski, 64, is retired from the Houston Symphony.

"Traverse City is very healthy. There is lots of hiking and parks and sand dunes and beaches. We just really appreciate the culture of the city."

The news for much of West Michigan is less comforting.

Coming and going

New census numbers show people are leaving most West Michigan counties. A notable exception is Grand Traverse County, which had a net migration total of 646.

Net migration totals for July 2006 to July 2007:

Kent County: -1,656

Ottawa County: -232

Allegan County: -361

Barry County: 9

Ionia County: -492

Montcalm County: -541

Newaygo County: -193


Kent County had an exodus of 1,656 people in that year. Ottawa County had 232 people move out. The figure does not consider the difference in births and deaths in each county, totals used to determine overall population.

With 5,227 more births than deaths, Kent County had a population increase of 3,713, to 604,330.

By comparison, Genesee County and Flint had a migration loss of 5,574 and Wayne County 35,296.

Smaller, rural counties in West Michigan also suffered.

Montcalm County lost 541 residents, perhaps no surprise given the shutdown in 2005 of the Electrolux AB plant in Greenville.

That exodus is proportionately much larger than Kent or Ottawa because Montcalm's total population is estimated at 62,950.

Ionia County had 492 people move out, Allegan County 361 and Newaygo County 193. The numbers parallel losses in manufacturing employment, as companies such as Steelcase Corp., Johnson Controls Inc. and dozens of others shed jobs.

Barry County had a net gain of nine residents due to migration.

Rick Chapla, vice president of business development for the Right Place Program, maintained that West Michigan still "stacks up pretty favorably" when compared to other regions in Michigan.

Chapla suspects that many of those leaving West Michigan are in low-wage manufacturing jobs that are being squeezed out by global competition.

"We don't want to see anybody leave, but people have choices. I would speculate that a higher percentage of those people may be in lower-skill positions. They can go somewhere else to try to upgrade their skills."

Chapla believes the region is well poised for recovery, given its combination of higher-skill manufacturing jobs and medical and research growth spurred by the Van Andel Institute and construction of the Michigan State University medical school.

"Those are positive attributes that in the long run are going to reverse those numbers that you are seeing," he said.

The numbers tell a different story in Grand Traverse County.

Traverse City real estate owner Brad Platt attributes the new arrivals to a relatively healthy local economy, coupled with postcard views that abound throughout the county.

"It's amazing how often we hear about the quality of life, clean air, clean water," Platt said.

"We have a lot of second and third homes as well as a lot of retirees."

Lifetime Traverse City resident Jim Sweeney points to local economic success stories such as classic-car insurer Hagerty Insurance, which started small and now employs several hundred in downtown Traverse City.

Sweeney suspects that many outsiders are also drawn to the cultural side of Traverse City.

"We have world-class restaurants. We have fantastic opportunities in terms of exposure to the arts. We have a dynamic symphony.

"Traverse City is much less provincial than many other northern Michigan towns

Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 1:41 PM by Jon Becker


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