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Wayne County economy projected to have near full recovery by 2023, report finds

Posted at 11:21 PM, Oct 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-11 23:21:39-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — According to a report released Monday by economists at the University of Michigan, Wayne County is well on its way to a full economic recovery from COVID-19.

But at the moment, downtown Detroit businesses say it's still a struggle.

Restaurants like Brass Rail are currently not seeing the traffic they'd hope to see on an 80 degree fall day. Downtown offices still remain mostly empty, leaving downtown streets feeling the same.

"There's no foot traffic right now at 5 o'clock. These should be bustling streets right now,” said Kevin Weathers, Bar Manager at the Brass Rail in Downtown Detroit. "People need to come back and move back downtown. A lot of people moved out during the pandemic. We need these apartments full, we need these bars full.”

Before the pandemic, downtown Detroit seemed on the fast track to an economic comeback, and despite the pandemic, economic forecasters at the University of Michigan believe that comeback remains on track.

“We remain optimistic about the recovery in Detroit and the recovery in Wayne County overall,” said Gabriel Ehlrich, an Economic Forecaster at the University of Michigan. "There are a number of high profile projects that we expect to create a large number of jobs in the City of Detroit and in Wayne County that have not been knocked off course by the pandemic.”

Ehlrich is one of the authors of a report released this week projecting a nearly complete economic recovery in Wayne County by 2023, with a current unemployment rate of just 4.5%.

Despite the low unemployment rate, restaurants like the Brass Rail say they can’t find workers and are struggling with staffing, as many workers have left the workforce.

“Anyone who comes in, we’ll give them a job. It’s just we need these bodies to come in,” Weathers said. "I think a lot of people found work outside of the restaurant industry. They're working for Amazon, FedEx, making more money and hour and not having to deal with the public and maybe being afraid of the virus.”

Ehlrich says since the low unemployment rate only counts those actively looking for work, the current rate of 4.5% is not an indicator of a thriving workforce.

“Wayne County's labor force remains more than 4% lower than it was before the pandemic, so you’ve got to really add that to the count of the unemployed in order to figure out how much ground does Wayne County's labor market really need to make up before we’re back to where we were before the pandemic,” Ehlrich said.

While restaurants struggle to hire in the short term there’s still optimism moving forward, with the hope the workforce and customers come back downtown soon.

“There's a project right next to us with 200 construction workers, there’s the Hudson site up the street, there’s constriction going on and stuff is coming back for sure,” Weathers said.

The report also projects Wayne County's economic growth will outpace the rest of the state and by 2023, unemployment will be the lowest it’s been in more than 2 decades.