Region suffers economic instability, hopes for growth

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By Andrew Krietz
Lansing Star staff writer

A Magic 8-Ball might be the best indicator of mid-Michigan’s local economy given the recent economic recession and stagnate job growth across the country — outlook hazy.

Gov. Rick Snyder delivers his State of the State address Jan. 19. Impending budget cuts have the potential to shake up the state's economy when Snyder releases his budget Thursday. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

U.S. unemployment fell by 0.4 percentage points to 9 percent in January, according to data released Feb. 4 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Michigan, more people obtained a job during the November to December 2010 period, with unemployment improving to 11.7 percent, down from 12.4 percent.

But even positive news must be taken with a grain of salt.

“I don’t want to say we’re out of the woods yet,” said Tim Daman, president of the Lansing Regional Chamber. “A lot of people are looking toward the governor’s proposed budget.”

On Thursday, Governor Rick Snyder will release his budget proposal to tackle an estimated $1.8 billion deficit for a fiscal year beginning in October. Potential job cuts at the state level could have a profound impact on the Lansing area if the governor plans to slash government jobs or reduce employee pay, Daman said.

Toward the end of the recession, the Lansing metropolitan area has decreased its unemployment number to about 8.8 percent, but elected officials must remain proponents for business.

“We feel pretty good that our region has weathered the economic downturn very well,” he said. “All elected officials need to make sure they are providing a strong sort of business climate.”

Still, an increase in employment has local business owners hoping any sort of upswing remains.

“It has been unbelievable,” said Kristin Olson, owner of Love, Betti. “I’m actually glad we’re closed (Monday) because I have to restock my shelves.”

When Love, Betti, 100 E. Grand River Ave., opened Feb. 4, Olsen credited Lansing’s Old Town’s “funky and sophisticated” atmosphere for its customers. If employment increases and customers have more to spend on the store’s gallery of art and furniture, Olsen hopes her store benefits and can expand.

“I know I’m going to hire some part-time help along the way, but I’m trying to keep things simple,” she said. “I’m not sure what the process is going to be … this is a mom and pop store.”

And if the time is right and the economy continues to improve, Olson might look to hire.

It is necessary to look to the past before taking the next step, as economic stability might be difficult to predict months or years into the future, said three-year Lansing resident Rachel Harper.

“I’ve watched new stores open and be successful and places that have been around for a while close shop,” she said. “There have been a number of unfortunate casualties.”

Harper said although any Michigan city is struggling with a rough economy, Lansing’s art community and music scene drive her to remain.

“I don’t intend to live in Lansing forever, but it’s been the perfect stepping stone so far,” she said.

With businesses opening and residents holding onto hope, Daman said he expects the region to suffer a few bumps in the road toward overall improvement.

“As a chamber, we are definitely on the rebound and I (think) there are a lot of people pointing at 2011 as a better year compared to the last few,” he said.

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