All posts by Bill Testa

Detroit and Chicago: Real Property Value Comparisons

Both Chicago and Detroit have become poster children for city government financial stress in recent years. Chicago’s city and school district alike have been running structural deficits, meaning that the government has been covering its normal operating expenditures by issuing or over-extending debt and running down its assets. Both Chicago’s municipal government and school district face large shortfalls in required contributions for the future pensions of current and retired employees. Both have raised local property taxes as partial steps toward balancing their budgets. In the case of Detroit, the city has only just emerged from Chapter 9 bankruptcy while its school district teeters on insolvency under state-mandated “emergency manager” operation.

Are these places comparable in terms of their outlooks and situation? The value of real property in each place offers one fascinating indicator of the resources available to their local governments, as well as a look into how private homeowners and commercial property owners perceive the general prospects of Detroit and Chicago.

Why examine real property values? In some sense, real estate and improvements are long-lived assets that are largely fixed in place. In the market for these properties, buyers and sellers must assess and incorporate the government fiscal liabilities and service benefits – present and future – attached to these properties in the prices at which they buy and sell. High (and rising) property values may indicate that home owners and commercial property owners expect that the prospects for value in these locations are good and that they will continue to improve. And from the local government’s perspective, high values indicate that there may be room for further imposition of local taxes to fund government services, if need be.

Nuts and bolts

The estimation of the value of real property—land and improvements– in a locality is far from an exact science. The actual sales prices of property can be thought of as one reflection of an individual parcel’s value. However, as we saw during the financial crisis last decade, sales transaction prices can be very volatile, and sometimes speculative. More practically, parcels of property do not turn over frequently, so that transactions prices of all property parcels are not observed in any one year. In practice, then, local public officials often rely on various estimation methods in assessing the value of property for taxation purposes, most of which involve using a sample of information from similar properties that were sold during a year. From the recorded sales price and a property’s particular features such as size, location, age, and configuration, the property assessment office infers the value of each property and, ultimately, the total value of property against which taxes are levied.1 These taxable values are often termed assessed values or sometimes equalized assessed values and often represent some fixed percentage of market or true value.2

In the charts, we draw on such data from the local and state governments of Detroit, Chicago, and Illinois to estimate the market or true value of real property in both Detroit and in Chicago.3 For Detroit, figures on total assessed property value are published in the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). By law, assessed value must amount to one-half of true value in Michigan. And so, to arrive at our estimates of full value, we simply double the assessed value. We believe that this yields a far upper bound on the value of residential property in Detroit because there is much evidence that, following the steep plunge in Detroit’s property market over the last decade, assessments were not reduced to accord with actual market value in a timely fashion.4

Drawing on prices of homes that recorded sales, the following chart shows that average home prices began to fall in 2004, while assessed value did not begin to fall until 2009.Detroit_Assessed_HomePricesFor Chicago, a prominent local government “watchdog” and research foundation has long been using state and city data on recorded property sales by class of property to estimate full market values.5 The accuracy of these data is believed to be reasonable, though far from exact.6

What do we see?

Due to lags in data availability, the estimates below are representative through calendar year 2014. The charts display total property value across all types, as well as the largest category in both Chicago and Detroit, that being residential property.

As shown here, Chicago real property value rose dramatically during the early part of last decade before dropping off just as dramatically. Detroit’s property values remained flat. However, Detroit’s apparent stability belies the fact that assessed values of residential properties have not been allowed to fall off in tandem with actual market transactions price there. As measured by volume of sales, the market for residential real estate in the city of Detroit became almost nonexistent during this period.7 Few homes were sold using conventional financing; almost all of them sold for cash. By some estimates, prices of homes sold fell by many multiples during this time, though they have since been heading back up in parts of the city.

Even using generous measures, and with rising home prices in some neighborhoods, residential property value overall in Detroit have continued to drift lower in recent years. In contrast, following the steep decline, Chicago property values have begun to recover for both residential and commercial (not shown) property.

Most telling, at over $80,000 per resident, the value of overall taxable real property in Chicago remained markedly higher than that of Detroit as of 2014. By even our generous measure, Detroit’s property values were only about $25,000 per resident.Detroit_Chicago_PropValuesDiscussion

It would appear that, as measured by real estate values, Chicago’s economy and prospects remain much stronger than Detroit’s. And from a local government perspective, Chicago’s taxable resources with which to pay down liabilities and fund public services appear to be much larger. Of course, there are myriad political and institutional factors at play that render such a simple assessment of wealth inadequate to characterize the fiscal capacity of these cities. In both places, for example, property wealth is concentrated in a subset of places such as near the downtown areas and along the waterfronts. Accordingly, it may be difficult to tap available property wealth selectively because existing statute largely requires that tax rates be applied uniformly. And voters and their representatives may be reluctant to allow tax hikes at all. Similarly, there may be different levels of sensitivity to taxation in these two places and among different constituencies. For example, the imposition of new and higher taxation may cause economic activity and investment to decline more sharply in one place as opposed to another.

More broadly, we might ask whether property wealth is a good indicator of potential resources that local governments may draw on to fund services. A look at more U.S. cities may be helpful. The next chart undertakes the same exercise for the most populous cities. Here we see that Chicago continues to look fairly robust by this measure, though less so than the cities of San Diego, Los Angeles, Austin, and New York City.MajorCities_ProvValues

  1. Assessed value of property for taxation purposes is often a fixed percentage of market value across all property parcels, or else it is a fixed percentage across all parcels of a certain type or class such as residential, commercial or industrial. In turn, estimates of full value of all property can be made by taking sample average ratios of “assessed value/sales price” and applying these ratios to all parcels’ assessed values.
  2. Equalized assessed values refers to the practice of further adjusting the totalities of assessed value of property across jurisdictions so that each locale’s assessed valuation represents the same or “equalized” value in relation to (percent)  sales price or true value.
  3. The city of Detroit also taxes tangible personal property of commercial enterprises such as computing equipment and furniture; Chicago does not.
  4. Using sales price and assessed values for a sample of 8,650 residential parcels in 2010, Hodge et al find an average assessment to sales price ratio of 11.47, which suggests an average over assessment or property values many times over. See Timothy R. Hodge, Daniel P. McMillen, Gary Sands, and Mark Skidmore, 2016, “Assessment Inequity in a Declining Housing Market: The Case of Detroit,” Real Estate Economics.
  5. See https://www.civicfed.org/sites/default/files/Estimated%20Full%20Value%20of%20Real%20Property%20in%20Cook%20County%202005_2014.pdf
  6. Discrepancies arise because only sample values of real estate transactions are available in any one year. In addition, full value projections derive from the median value of property in each class. However, the median property value may not represent the entire distribution of property values.
  7. See http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/2000739-Detroit-Housing-Tracker-Q1-2016.pdf

Why Chicago is not Detroit

By William Sander and William Testa

Over the past decade, 17 of the 20 largest cities in the United States gained population. Recent academic studies on these trends have attributed them to changes in residential preferences, the location of skilled jobs, and cultural amenities. Both Chicago (third largest) and Detroit (18th) are exceptions to these trends. The population of the city of Chicago declined modestly from 2.9 million in 2000 to 2.7 million in 2010 after increasing during the 1990s. The population of the city of Detroit has declined more drastically over time from a peak of 1.8 million in 1950 to about 700,000 today; the city filed for bankruptcy in 2013. Since 2010, the population of the city of Chicago has increased modestly (1%), while Detroit’s population has continued to decline. Figure 1 shows population trends for Chicago, Detroit, and other Industrial Belt cities, which have traditionally depended heavily on manufacturing for employment. While Chicago remains much larger than the others despite recent sluggish growth, Detroit has seen a dramatic change in its position.

det_chi_fig1

Due to worsening fiscal problems and a rising homicide rate, Chicago’s prospects have recently been equated with Detroit’s, at least by the popular press. LeDuff1 writes in The New York Times “So Detroit files for bankruptcy…Pay close attention because it may be coming to you soon…Chicago.”  An Investor’s Business Daily editorial notes that “Chicago appears to be following Detroit’s lead to financial disaster.”2 An article in the Financial Times suggests that Chicago’s problems are not too different from Detroit’s.3 And so on.

For one, both places have been severely challenged by loss of manufacturing activity. Detroit and Chicago have lost over 100,000 and 300,000 manufacturing jobs, respectively, since the late 1970s; other midwestern cities (Milwaukee, Cleveland) have not been far behind. The inverse relationship between an historic MSA concentration of manufacturing jobs and subsequent growth from 1969 onward is evident for the most prominent Great Lakes metropolitan areas. More broadly, the growth-retarding effect from manufacturing on U.S. metropolitan areas over the 1960–90 period has been documented in a statistical study by Harvard’s Edward Glaeser.4 As evidenced in figure 2, manufacturing employment losses and depopulation within the central city were contemporaneous in both Detroit and Chicago.

det_chi_fig2

Declines in manufacturing jobs are a result of improvements in manufacturing productivity as well as the movement of production elsewhere including both suburban areas and overseas. For example, data for Michigan indicates that vehicle production in 2015 was at about the same level as 1990. However, employment in producing vehicles over this period declined by about one-half.

Suburbanization has taken no less a toll on central city manufacturing employment in both Chicago and Detroit alike. In the Chicago metropolitan area, only 9% of jobs are now in the manufacturing sector, while manufacturing accounts for 13% of jobs in the Detroit area. In the city of Chicago, only 6% of jobs remain in manufacturing and 10% in the city of Detroit. As reported by John McDonald for Detroit circa 1950, 61% of the Detroit area’s manufacturing jobs were to be found in the city, with another 13% in adjacent Dearborn, domicile of Ford Motor Company.5 The entire range of the city-suburb split in manufacturing jobs for both MSAs can be seen in figure 3. The advent of controlled access divided highways pulled manufacturing jobs outward within metropolitan areas to take advantage of lower land prices and lower shipping costs.

det_chi_fig3

Although both Chicago and Detroit lost a large number of jobs in manufacturing, it is also evident from figure 2 that the city of Chicago withstood the manufacturing exodus more robustly than Detroit. Unlike Detroit, its population did not decline apace with manufacturing from 1950 onward. Similarly, it did not experience the same degree of job declines. More recently, for example, over the 2000 to 2010 period, metropolitan Detroit experienced a 21.2% decline in employment, while the Chicago metropolitan area lost 7.7% of its jobs. Indeed, the past decade was disastrous for Detroit relative to Chicago. About one in four workers were unemployed in the motor city by the end of the decade. In Chicago, the unemployment rate peaked at a little more than one in ten workers (see figure 4).

det_chi_fig4

The resident population of the city of Detroit has also come to be characterized by a much higher degree of poverty and minority population. The share of households in poverty approaches four in ten in the city of Detroit, compared with 23% in Chicago. According to the latest decennial Census, the Detroit population overwhelmingly identifies as “black” (83%), up from 29% in 1960. Owing to the city’s economic collapse and to the suburbanization of (mostly white) population, by 1990 Detroit had become one of the most racially divided metropolitan areas in the United States. Social and economic issues arising from racial polarization since early in the twentieth century have been cited as a major constraint on the growth and development of Detroit and its suburbs.

det_chi_tab1

Chicago’s racial/ethnic groups also tend to be highly segregated; however, the overall composition of the city’s population is more balanced. Approximately 32% of Census respondents identify as black (including those reporting Hispanic background); 45% report as non-Hispanic white; and 28% as Hispanic. More than 20% of Chicago residents are foreign born. Despite the impression of a balanced population that such figures suggest, racial isolation in Chicago is very similar to that in Detroit when measured on a block to block basis.

Chicago bright spots

Although Chicago has many of Detroit’s problems and more than twice the number of residents living in poverty, Chicago also has many positive features relative to Detroit.

One of the reasons that one might be more optimistic about Chicago’s future is that, in spite of declines in population growth, the city of Chicago has become increasingly attractive to non-Hispanic white college graduates, while the inner-ring of suburbs of Chicago have become more attractive to African-American and Hispanic college graduates. Further, within the city of Chicago, household locations along Chicago’s lakeshore (particularly on the north side of the city), have become particularly attractive to more affluent, college-educated households. Studies indicate that the attractiveness of the city of Chicago to college graduates is at least partly related to growth in skilled jobs in and around the central business district.

Although there are recent indications to the contrary, Detroit has been less successful in attracting resident college graduates. Only 12% of the population twenty-five and older in the city of Detroit are college graduates. In the city of Chicago, 34% of the adult population has at least a bachelor’s degree. In popular areas of Chicago such as Lincoln Park, the vast majority of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree. Further, about half of the twenty-something college graduates in the Chicago metropolitan area live in the city of Chicago, while only 10% of college graduates in their 20s in the Detroit metropolitan area live in the city of Detroit. For college graduates with a school-age child, the percentage living in the city of Detroit is even lower (5%), versus 15% for Chicago. Of the college graduates working in the city of Detroit, only 22% live there. In the case of Chicago, the corresponding statistic is 61%.

Further, median household income in the city of Detroit is only a little over half of median income in Chicago. The poverty rate in Detroit is almost twice as high as Chicago’s, although the city of Chicago has almost twice as many poor residents. The city of Chicago employs about four times as many people as the city of Detroit. About 30% of the jobs in the Chicago metropolitan area are in the city of Chicago, while the corresponding statistic for Detroit is only 14%.

Why Are Chicago’s Prospects Brighter?

For one, Chicago began the era of de-industrialization with a more diversified economy with which to reinvent itself, especially in business services and financial services. In addition to its manufacturing (and goods transportation) prowess, Chicago has long been a purveyor of business and business-meeting services, retail, and financial services to the surrounding Midwest region and beyond. For example, Chicago’s large exchange-traded derivatives industry evolved from the city’s role as a nineteenth century market and wholesale distributor of grain, lumber, and meat. Its highly concentrated management consulting industry owes its twenty-first century success in part to the need of New York City financial houses to closely appraise the operations of Midwest manufacturing companies in the issuance of corporate debt. And the nexus of passenger railroad lines and (later) passenger air travel in Chicago cultivated one of the nation’s leading industries in business meetings and conventions. Accordingly, the profound exodus of manufacturing that occurred from almost all large U.S. cities did not devastate Chicago’s job base to the same degree as happened in Detroit and some other Midwest cities, although some parts of Chicago were hit hard. Admittedly, the Detroit area also maintains very strong business services industries, largely related to the auto industry, but for the most part these services are in suburban locations. In Chicago, many service businesses remain in the city.

Figures 2 and 3 show trends in population and manufacturing in Chicago and Detroit from 1900 to date. In both cities, one can see the spectacular rise in both manufacturing and population to 1950 followed by an equally spectacular decline. However, while population declines in Chicago have been profound, they diverge markedly from the Detroit experience. Nonetheless, much like Detroit, vast neighborhood areas of the city of Chicago were also impoverished by job and population flight to the suburbs, especially those neighborhoods that depended on the middle-income jobs associated with freight and manufacturing. Wages and jobs outside of the central area of Chicago have declined, even while the central area has prospered. Today, many Chicago neighborhoods find themselves challenged in the same ways as neighborhoods in Detroit and other industrial cities by poverty, violence, sub-standard housing, and a lack of immediate and accessible economic opportunities.

Chicago has arguably developed a stronger reputation as a city in which to do business than Detroit and some other midwestern cities. At the turn of this century, Chicago began positioning itself to be one of the emerging “global cities” that had successfully forged commercial connections to other cities of its kind around the world. Global cities are characterized by the most skilled occupations and activities in business services, finance, education, and technology; well-educated residents; forward-looking business leaders; and globally connected transportation and communications networks, among other attributes.

Owing to their strategic importance and global reach, corporate headquarters operations have become a hallmark of success for global cities. Early last decade, Chicago became the global headquarters of Boeing. Since then, the city has attracted Archer Daniels Midland, GE Healthcare, Oscar Mayer, and ConAgra, among others. Relocation of headquarters from the suburbs of Chicago to the central city has also taken place, including United (Air), Kraft Heinz, and Motorola Mobility.

In Detroit, both the IT software company Compuware and Quicken Loans have relocated operations from the suburbs to the downtown area (in 2003 and 2010, respectively). However, the scale of these moves falls far short of similar activity in Chicago.

Some argue that headquarters operations have downsized over time, representing far fewer direct jobs than in the past when headquarters often included back office, research, advertising, and payroll processing operations. However, the presence of headquarters is coincident with a much vaster nearby network of financial and business services, many of which are supported by colocation with the strategic headquarters of corporations.

The upshot then is that, even though the older industrial neighborhoods of Chicago share many of the same challenges as those of Detroit, Chicago has been better able to withstand the decline of industrial production. Whereas the city of Chicago has about four times as many people as the city of Detroit, Chicago has ten times as many jobs in finance, eight times as many jobs in professional services, six times as many jobs in education, and five times as many jobs in accommodation and food services. Since 1998, the Chicago area has gained almost 60,000 jobs in business services, while Detroit has lost over 35,000 jobs in the sector. During this period, Chicago also gained more than 20,000 jobs in colleges and universities, while Detroit gained none.

It is clear that Detroit needs to diversify its legacy industrial clusters as well as to build on them. This focus on industrial rebirth includes further specialization in the auto industry—especially R&D, as well as logistics and transportation, engineering and design, technology start-ups, and business services and finance. Indeed, diversification to a technology-oriented industrial structure has raised fortunes of old industrial regions elsewhere, with the Boston area being a prominent example.

We would note that a number of Rust Belt cities with about as many jobs as Detroit, including Cleveland, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh have significantly fewer people living in them. This implies that Detroit’s population may not yet have reached a floor. Unlike Detroit, the city of Chicago remains an attractive place to work and live, especially for young college graduates. This could change over time if Detroit can reinvent itself and make further improvements in the delivery of basic public services, especially basic education and public safety. Chicago faces many of the same challenges in improving public services, and in putting its underlying fiscal affairs on a sounder footing.

William Sander, Professor of Economics, DePaul University, Chicago.

William Testa, President and Director of Regional Programs, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

A preliminary version of this paper was presented at Inner City Economic Development Summit in Detroit, September 2015.

  1. LeDuff, Charlie. 2013. “Come see Detroit, America’s future.” The New York Times, July 24.
  2. Investor’s Business Daily. 2013. “Emmanuel’s Chicago is on the path to be the next Detroit.” August 7.
  3. Sender, Henny, Stephen Foley, and Richard, McGregor. 2013. “Descent into despair.” The Financial Times. July 26.
  4. Glaeser, Edward, Jose A. Scheinkman, and Andrei Shleifer. 1995.”Economic Growth in a Cross-Section of Cities,” Journal of Monetary Economics 36 (1): 117-143.
  5. McDonald, John F. 2013. “What Happened To and In Detroit?” unpublished paper.

Chicago City Trends

By Bill Sander and Bill Testa

The fortunes of the city of Chicago have become clouded in recent years as concerns over its weakening finances and heavy debt obligations have grown. The tally for the unfunded public employee debt obligations of Chicago’s overlapping units of local governments (including those for public schools, parks, and county services) is now approaching $30 billion. Moreover, the city government has been criticized for its practices of funding current public services with proceeds from the issuance of long-term debt and the long-term leases of public assets (such as its parking meter system). However, faith in Chicago’s ability to address its debts has not fallen so far as that in Detroit’s, chiefly because the Windy City’s economic trends display more vibrancy.

Population change is a prominent indicator of the health of an urban economy because it reflects a city’s ability to hold on to its residents (as opposed to losing them to the suburbs or other locales). Over the past few decades, similar to other central cities, Chicago has experienced an erosion in its population share of the broader metropolitan statistical area (MSA);[1] in contrast, the surrounding suburbs have seen their share climb. According to the U.S. Census, Chicago held 38% of the MSA’s population in 1980, with this share falling to 35% by 1990; in the subsequent 20 years, Chicago’s population share of the MSA decreased another 3 percentage points per decade, reaching 29% by 2010 (see table below). During the 1980–2010 period, Chicago lost a total of over 300,000 residents. At the same time, suburban Chicago gained close to 2 million in population. Since 2010, the city of Chicago’s population and population share of the MSA have strengthened somewhat, though the (off-Census year) estimates are probably not as reliable.

While population trends can be telling for a city’s prospects, they can also belie changes in its residents’ wealth and income. Despite the city of Chicago’s population loss over the past few decades, its economic trends have been generally more encouraging.[2] Household income is an important indicator of Chicago’s fortunes relative to those of its suburbs. In 1990, median household income in the city was just 67% of the median household income in suburban Chicago. By 2010, this income ratio had climbed to 73% (see table below). Decomposing household income statistics by (self-reported) racial/ethnic group reveals that this trend was pervasive for the three largest groups: non-Hispanic white, black, and Hispanic. The ratio of city median income to suburban median income among white households experienced the greatest change; it rose from 77% in 1990 to 98% (near parity) in 2010.

These robust trends are echoed by Chicago’s rising share of adults aged 25 and older who have attained at least a bachelor’s degree. In 1990, among adults aged 25 and older, 19% of those residing in the city had attained a four-year college degree versus 28% of those residing in the suburbs (see table below). By 2010, Chicagoans in this age demographic had almost reached the same share in this regard as their suburban counterparts (33% for city residents versus 35% for suburban residents). The non-Hispanic whites again experienced the greatest change among the three largest racial/ethnic groups. In 1990, 29% of the white city population aged 25 and older had a four-year college degree—the same percentage as the white suburban population in this age demographic; however, by 2010, 55% of such white city dwellers had a bachelor’s degree, while 39% of their white suburbanite counterparts did. Between 1990 and 2010, the city’s black population also made substantial gains in education, as evidenced by the share of black adults aged 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree having risen from 11% to 17%.

By “drilling down” through the data to examine specific neighborhoods, we can see how geographically concentrated the city’s gains in college-educated adults aged 25 and older have been. These gains have been highly concentrated in Chicago’s central business district (“the Loop”) and the surrounding areas, as well as the neighborhoods west of Chicago’s northern lakeshore. As shown in the table below, dramatic gains in the college-educated population were seen in the Loop and the neighborhoods just south, west, and north of it. For example, the Near South Side saw an increase in the share of adults with a four-year college degree climb from 9% in 1980 to 68% in 2010. No less dramatic were such gains in Chicago’s neighborhoods west of its northern lakeshore: The shares of the college-educated population there typically doubled or tripled between 1980 and 2010 (in the case of the North Center neighborhood, this share increased sixfold—from 11% in 1980 to 66% in 2010).

As one might expect, many college-educated Chicago residents work in proximity to their residence. Of those living in the Central Area and Mid-North Lakefront, an estimated 57% work in the Central Area of Chicago and 79% work somewhere in the city.[3] Of those who do work in the Central Area, an estimated 19% travel to work by driving alone (as opposed to walking, public transit, bike, and carpooling); this percentage is much smaller than the nearly 70% of metropolitan Chicago workers who travel to work by driving alone.[4] The trends highlighted thus far point to the fact that the city of Chicago draws and retains many jobs. By one count, the city of Chicago’s Central Area is the domicile of over half a million jobs. As seen below, job counts in the Central Area have remained fairly constant over the past 13 years, even while job levels in the remainder of the city and in the remainder of Cook County have been falling.

Meanwhile, compensation levels per job have continued to climb in Chicago’s Central Area, reflecting a work force with greater skills and education. Annual compensation per worker on the payroll in Chicago’s Central Area exceeds that of the overall MSA by 50%.

Many of the trends shown here bode well for the city of Chicago, despite the fiscal challenges it currently faces. To be sure, many large central cities in the Midwest, including Detroit, are experiencing strong growth of both jobs and households centered around their central areas and downtowns. In this, the central Chicago area enjoys a strong start. ________________________________________

[1] Current and historical delineations of MSAs are available at www.census.gov/population/metro/. (Return to text)

[2] This is not to say that all parts of the city have been on the economic upswing. Several Chicago neighborhoods have seen severe deterioration in wealth and income, as well as in living conditions, as evidenced by increasing incidences of homelessness and crime in certain areas in the past few decades; see, e.g., http://danielkayhertz.com/2013/08/05/weve-talked-about-homicide-in-chicago-at-least-one-million-times-but-i-dont-think-this-has-come-up/. (Return to text)

[3] This statement covers 113,000 workers living in these areas as of the year 2000. Estimates were pulled from www.rtams.org and are based on the Census Transportation Planning Package (CTPP), “which is a special tabulation of the decennial U.S. Census for transportation planners” and “contains detailed tabulations on the characteristics of workers at their place of residence (‘part 1’), at their place of work (‘part 2’), and on work trip flows between home and work (‘part 3’)” (see www.rtams.org/rtams/ctppHome.jsp). Workers who work at home are excluded. See also http://definingdowntown.org/wp-content/uploads/docs/Defining_DowntownReport.pdf; this report ranks Chicago second among major U.S. cities in terms of the percentage of residents living within one mile of downtown who work downtown (figure 3 in the report), and ranks Chicago first in terms of population growth in the downtown area over the period 2000–10 (figure 4 in the report). (Return to text)

[4]Estimates are from www.rtams.org and are based on the Census Transportation Planning Package (CTPP). (Return to text)

Mid-year Export Trends

By Bill Testa

Recently released data on U.S. foreign trade for July from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) show an improvement in exports of U.S. goods. On a month-over-month basis, exports increased $1.8 billion, to $138.6 billion. This rise in exports—which helps to narrow the trade deficit—points to a stronger pace of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) growth for the third quarter of 2014 relative to earlier this year.

July’s improvement in trade performance also bodes well for the economy of the Seventh Federal Reserve District. As seen below, exported manufactured goods make up a greater percentage of District production than of national production. Moreover, each District state’s ratio of manufactured export value to annual state output meets or surpasses the nation’s ratio of manufactured export value to GDP (7.1%). Notably, by this measure, Indiana and Michigan significantly exceed the nation as a whole, owing to their strong industry concentrations in transportation equipment (cars and trucks).

Looking more closely at July’s performance, one can see that the composition of July’s U.S. export growth favored District industries. As the Census/BEA trade report states: “The June to July increase in exports of goods reflected increases in automotive vehicles, parts, and engines ($1.7 billion); industrial supplies and materials ($1.3 billion); and capital goods ($0.4 billion).” In addition to the District economy’s high concentration in the export of transportation equipment, several District states also export significant amounts of capital goods: machinery and equipment such as agriculture, construction, and mining equipment, as well as computers and electronic equipment (see below). Moreover, several District states export chemicals, including both industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

According to measures of export growth in first half of the year as compared to a year ago, not all industry categories have been holding up in 2014 (see below). Of particular note, machinery exports from Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin have been lagging compared to last year’s first half. And while automotive sales and production have been generally growing, transportation equipment exports from Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois recorded declines in first six months of 2014 over last year.

And so, if continued export growth can be sustained for the rest of this year and beyond, it will be welcome news for the District economy. Following a surge in growth during 2010–11 (see below), District (and U.S.) manufactured exports slumped in tandem with slowing growth in eurozone countries, which are important buyers of District manufactured goods. District manufactured export growth has also faltered on account of slower economic growth in China and in other lesser developed countries. Since global economic growth slowed down, global demands for commodities such as minerals and energy have eased, depressing Midwest exports of mining and construction equipment.


Rising District manufactured exports in 2014 would be consistent with modestly stronger global economic growth as compared with 2013.[1] As of its July forecast, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects global growth to be 3.4% this year, up from 3.2% in 2013 (see below). World economic growth is expected to further accelerate to 4.0% in 2015, according to the IMF. As our trading partners continue to experience faster economic growth, we can expect that their purchases of the District’s manufactured goods, such as machinery, transportation equipment, and industrial supplies, will begin to bolster the region’s manufacturing production.

Note: Thanks to Rebecca Friedman and Paul Traub for assistance.
_____________________________________
[1] Year to date through June, the five District state total of manufactured exports has risen 1.4% from $91.2 billion to $92.6 billion, according to Chicago Fed Staff calculations using data from the US Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and Haver Anlalytics. (Return to text)

Are Seventh District Labor Markets Still Slack?

By Bill Testa and Jacob Berman

There is no question that the U.S. labor market has been gradually but steadily healing after the Great Recession. The national unemployment rate peaked at 10% in October 2009, but it has since fallen to 6.2% (as of July 2014). The nation experienced a net loss of 8.7 million jobs during the downturn, and finally finished making up for those job losses just this past May. So, undeniably, progress has been made in the labor market, but now the questions facing policymakers and other government officials are how much slack capacity in the employable population remains and whether further tightening of labor market conditions will push up wages and prices.

Recently, short-term unemployment—defined as the share of the labor force that has been unemployed for 26 weeks or less (see below)—has fallen to levels that have been historically associated with robust economic conditions. In contrast, despite post-recessionary declines in long-term unemployment (i.e., the share of the labor force that has been unemployed for greater than 26 weeks), its recent levels remain well above the historical norm. Though high long-term unemployment may be a sign of considerable labor market slack, some argue that the vast majority of the long-term unemployed lack the specific skills and other characteristics to be hired or trained. If this proves to be correct, it would imply that the U.S. labor market is nearing its full capacity.


Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, from Haver Analytics

In order to provide more useful guideposts for macroeconomic policymaking, economists Dan Aaronson and Andrew Jordan recently investigated the relationships between rising wages and indicators of labor market tightness. In their recent Chicago Fed Letter, the authors find a strong correlation between real wage growth and two prominent measures of labor market slack—medium-term unemployment (i.e., the share of labor force unemployed for five to 26 weeks) and the percentage of the labor force reporting they are working part-time involuntarily for economic reasons (such as unfavorable business conditions or seasonal decreases in demand). Partly because both of these measures of labor slack remain elevated today, the authors conclude that real wage growth in June 2014 would have been one-half of a percentage point to one full percentage point higher under the labor market conditions of the 2005-07 U.S. economy.

While we often speak of the labor market as one monolithic term, labor market conditions vary widely by occupation, industry, and location. In their analyses, Aaronson and Jordan identify statistical relationships between real wage growth and labor market conditions by observing individual states. In the chart below, we see the general pace of employee compensation for both the United States and for the East North Central Region, which includes four of the five states of the Seventh Federal Reserve District.[1] In both the nation and the region, recent growth in labor compensation continues to fall short of that in the pre-recessionary period.[2]


Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, from Haver Analytics

Also, as seen in the next three charts, Seventh District states generally exhibited signs of greater labor market slack in 2013 relative to the pre-recession year of 2007.[3] Long-term unemployment—both in the Seventh District states and in the nation—has stayed high during the economic recovery. In 2013, the long-term unemployment rate in Illinois was the highest among the District states (followed by Michigan). Notably, Michigan’s long-term unemployment rate had been at a high rate already in 2007 as a result of the severe restructuring of the automotive industry in the past decade.


Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, from Haver Analytics

Medium-term measures also remained elevated among Seventh District states in 2013. However, they suggested that the District’s state labor markets may be less slack than the national one; in particular, Iowa and Wisconsin, where 2013 medium-term unemployment rates had almost returned to their 2007 levels, showed their labor markets may be improving faster than the nation’s.


Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, from Haver Analytics

According to the measures of the percentage of the labor force who are involuntary part-time workers, there also appeared to be additional work force supply available in both the Seventh District states and the nation in 2013 as compared with 2007. This was the case for all five District states. Moreover, it should be noted that Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois displayed a higher percentage of involuntary part-timers than the nation did in 2013. Involuntary part-time workers are those who would choose to work more hours if it were possible. Typically, such workers have had their hours cut back in their current job, or they are part-time workers who cannot find a full-time job due to poor economic conditions in their occupation.[4]


Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, from Haver Analytics

As these measures indicate, even while labor markets continue to tighten in the economic recovery, there is significant variation across states. According to the charts above, state labor markets in the Seventh District continue to be somewhat slack. Further, the observed pace of wage and employee compensation increases are still below those of the pre-recessionary period.
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[1]The Federal Reserve’s Seventh District comprises major parts of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, as well as the entirety of Iowa. The U.S. Census Bureau’s East North Central Region comprises Ohio and the entirety of the Seventh District states excepting any part of Iowa.(Return to text)

[2]Labor compensation includes both employee wages and benefits.(Return to text)

[3]State averages are reported here, though we acknowledge that local conditions and markets for specific skills and occupations differ. The Chicago Fed’s regional research staff keeps abreast of such conditions and markets through local meetings with labor market participants and businesses, as well as through formal surveys.(Return to text)

[4]For a full discussion see Rob Valletta and Leila Bengalli, “What’s Behind the Increase in Part-time Work?(Return to text)

Economic Development in Chicago

By Rick Mattoon

This last blog in our series on the largest cities in the Chicago Fed’s District focuses on Chicago. (For a complete profile of all five cities, see Industrial clusters and economic development in the Seventh District’s largest cities.) Chicago holds a different place in the urban hierarchy than the other large cities in the District. More than just a large midwestern city, Chicago has obtained global city status and competes with other global cities in the U.S. (New York, Los Angeles, Washington and San Francisco) and abroad (London, Paris, Tokyo, and Hong Kong to name a few) for investment and reputation. Chicago is the home to world-class museums, cultural institutions and universities, as well as corporate headquarters and one of the busiest airports in the world. Importantly, one of Chicago’s primary advantages is its ability to attract human capital. Recent work by Bill Testa and Bill Sander highlighted the ability of Chicago’s downtown core to attract educated young adults.[1] As this survey of city economic strategies has shown, human capital accumulation is a primary strategy for growth, and Chicago appears to have advantages in attracting and retaining skilled workers.

Chicago’s economy underwent a profound shift in the 1990s. As manufacturing jobs began to decline, the Chicago-area economy shifted toward business and professional services. These sectors provided the city with high-paying jobs and helped lift its economy relative to other manufacturing-dependent Midwest cities. As we can see in the data (table 1), Chicago has a highly diversified economy, which closely mirrors the structure of the U.S. economy. Chicago does have challenges. The fiscal condition of the city (and the state) is precarious, highlighted by large underfunded public pension obligations. Also, the city has struggled to emerge from the Great Recession, as highlighted by slow job growth (figure 1).

Chicago’s Industry Structure

As figure 1 shows, Chicago has eight industries with higher employment and location quotients (LQs than the U.S. average.)[2] They are: manufacturing (LQ 1.04), wholesale trade (1.14), professional and technical services (1.13), management of companies (1.28), administrative and waste services (1.20), educational services (1.44), transportation and warehousing (1.24), and finance and insurance (1.16). This provides a highly diverse mix of high-end professional services (accounting, consulting, and advertising) with retained strength in manufacturing and logistics and warehousing.

Economic Development Strategy in Chicago

In 2012, Chicago unveiled a new economic development strategy that was based on a study conducted by World Business Chicago (WBC), which is the city’s public–private economic development agency. The study was based on a series of reports by subcommittees that focused on the recent strengths and weaknesses of Chicago’s economy. In the end, the report identified ten strategies, which included a focus on specific industry clusters—advanced manufacturing, professional services, and headquarters operations—as well as infrastructure improvements. The strategies are as follows:

• Support advanced manufacturing—high-value-added manufacturing.

• Increase the region’s attractiveness for business services and headquarters.

• Enhance the city’s competitive position as a transportation and logistics hub.

• Make Chicago a premier destination for tourism and entertainment.

• Make the city a leading exporter—support export activities, particularly for small and mid-sized businesses.

• Develop a work force in a demand-driven and targeted manner.

• Support entrepreneurship and innovation in both mature and emerging sectors (with an emphasis on product commercialization).

• Develop next-generation infrastructure and new models of public–private funding.

• Support neighborhood vitality that supports regional growth (small and medium-sized enterprises).

• Develop a good business climate. This includes streamlining regulation and providing businesses with a supportive infrastructure.

To implement the plan, WBC has created a series of task forces to develop specific metrics to measure progress toward each goal. As figure 2 shows, part of the desire to articulate a new development plan for the city came from the sluggish job growth that occurred coming out of the Great Recession. While Chicago had grown faster than the District as a whole leading up to the recession, its performance from 2010 to 2012 was lackluster and is still somewhat sluggish.

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[1]William A. Testa and William Sander, “Household Location and Economic Development in the Chicago Metropolitan Area,” mimeo. (Return to text)

[2]The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines LQs as “ratios that allow an area’s distribution of employment by industry to be compared to a reference or base area’s distribution”. (Return to text)

Economic Development in Detroit

By Rick Mattoon

Detroit is the focus of this blog examining economic development issues in the five largest cities in the Chicago Fed’s District. (For a complete profile of all five cities. see “Industrial clusters and economic development in the Seventh District’s largest cities”). Relative to the other large cities, Detroit faces some special challenges. Home to the domestic auto industry, Detroit grew and flourished until increased foreign auto competition began to erode the dominant position of Detroit-based auto producers. With a challenged industrial base and increasing racial strife culminating in the 1967 riots, Detroit began a long process of population out-migration. The city’s population fell from a high of 1.8 million in 1950[1] to the most recent estimate of just under 700,000.[2] This combination of industrial and population decline severely challenged the fiscal condition of the city. The city’s large geographic footprint (140 square miles) and declining tax base made it increasingly difficult to provide city services, culminating in a 2013 Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing, which is still being resolved. Not surprisingly, the city’s immediate economic development plans aim to stabilize its population, restore government services, and attract new businesses that should find its relatively low property prices attractive.

Detroit’s Industry Structure

Figure 1 shows Detroit’s employment structure and industry concentrations (location quotients or LQs) relative to the U.S. Detroit has five industries with above U.S. average employment shares and location quotients above 1. These industries are manufacturing (LQ of 1.29 or 29% above the U.S. average), professional and technical services (LQ 1.45), management of companies (LQ of 1.34), administrative and waste services (1.15), and health care and social assistance (1.09). This reflects recent efforts by the city to develop business and professional services in the downtown business district, which has led to investments by Quicken Loans and Compuware.

Economic Development Strategy in Detroit

In December 2012, the Detroit Strategic Framework Plan was released.[3] The long-term planning aspect of the report was produced by a mayor-appointed, 12-member steering committee drawn from the business, community, faith-based, government, and philanthropic communities. The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation managed the project. The plan is designed to recognize core assets that the city has and to examine ways to leverage those assets to restore and stabilize the Detroit economy. The plan creates four benchmark goals for the city to achieve by 2030.

• Stabilize the residential population at between 600,000 and 800,000.

• Increase the number of jobs available per city resident from the current level of 27 per 100 people to 50 per 100 people.

• Enhance the regional transportation network to better integrate Detroit and the rest of the MSA and develop land-reuse plans that will repurpose existing vacant tracks for new types of development.

• Establish an ongoing framework for civic involvement.

The plan also has specific economic development elements that are captured by five implementation strategies.

• Emphasize support for four key sectors with highest potential growth—education and medical, industrial, digital/creative, and local entrepreneurship. To support growth in these sectors, the plan calls for aligning private and civic investments. This includes having work force development strategies specific to these four industry clusters.

• Use a place-based strategy for growth. In practice, this would target “employment districts” where resources would be channeled to promote growth. The plan establishes seven of these districts and assumes these geographic areas have the greatest ability to bring job growth to scale. This would be complimented by growth in industrial business improvement districts and developing capacity for green business.

• Encourage local entrepreneurship and minority business participation. The strategy here is to develop local business clusters that serve the Detroit market—for example, using local suppliers to feed existing businesses as well as seeking to diversify the economic base of the city. This strategy assumes the provision of low-cost shared space and improvements in other local services that are currently being underprovided in Detroit.

• Improve skills and support education reform. Much of this focuses on improving existing work force training by linking it more closely to the private sector and aligning training to local industry needs. It also calls for better integrating work force development with transportation, encourages hiring of Detroit natives, and calls for a study designed to improve city-wide graduation rates.

• Review land regulations, transactions, and environmental actions. This is a broad land-reuse program that focuses on land banking for industrial and commercial property as well as improving development outcomes by speeding permitting in employment districts and identifying alternative sources of capital for development.

It is clear that much of Detroit’s plan emphasizes stabilizing the current economic base as a necessary step to attract new investment. The plan also emphasizes the creation of home-grown businesses, which is likely necessary to fill in declines in retail and other services found in many Detroit neighborhoods.

If we look at Detroit’s recent history of employment growth over the recent business cycle (figure 2), we see that for almost the entire 2000s, Detroit had negative year-over-year employment growth and performed significantly below the average for the Seventh District. However, emerging from the Great Recession, Detroit’s employment growth is above the Seventh District average up until late 2013 and early 2014, which happens to coincide with the bankruptcy filing. The rise coming out of the recession likely reflects the rebound in the domestic auto industry, which still exerts a heavy influence on Detroit’s economy.

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[1] http://www.freep.com/interactive/article/20130723/NEWS01/130721003/detroit-city-population (Return to text)

[2] http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140521/METRO08/305210136 (Return to text)

[3] http://detroitworksproject.com/the-framework/ (Return to text)

Economic Development in Milwaukee, WI

By Rick Mattoon

Milwaukee is the focus of this third blog examining the economic structure and development plans of the five largest cities in the Seventh Federal Reserve District. (For a complete profile of all five cities see, Industrial clusters and economic development in the Seventh District’s largest cities.) Milwaukee grew up as a manufacturing city and was famed for its beer industry. Today manufacturing still plays an important role, but the city has added an array of financial and professional services firms and is targeting niche industries, such as freshwater management and industrial controls, to help drive future growth. Milwaukee also has an important difference from other large cities in the District in the sense that it is geographically close to Chicago. Chicago’s considerable economic shadow presents both advantages and disadvantages for Milwaukee. On the one hand, Chicago provides a huge market for Milwaukee’s products. On the other hand, Chicago’s size and influence pulls regional assets, including skilled workers, away from Milwaukee. However, as we will see from the economic development plan, Milwaukee is focused on industries that are either absent in Chicago or might compliment the greater bi-state regional economy.

Milwaukee’s Industry Structure

Table 1 shows the Milwaukee MSA’s employment and industry concentration levels (also known as location quotients or LQs) relative to the US. Milwaukee has a diverse economic base, with above-average shares of employment and industry concentrations across an array of industries.

Economic Development Strategy in Milwaukee

The Milwaukee 7 Regional Economic Development Partnership released a strategy plan in November 2013.[1] The plan was developed over 18 months and was based on the work of five cross-sector working groups. The plan recognizes that Milwaukee’s economy has been lagging that of the nation for the past decade and is in a state of transition, with growth favoring knowledge-intensive products, services, and processes over traditional manufacturing.

The plan identifies nine specific strategies aimed at improving regional productivity. These strategies are:

• become a leading innovator, producer, and exporter of products and services related to energy, power, and controls

• become a global hub for activity in water technology

• grow the food cluster by leveraging geographic, supply chain, and human capital advantages

• increase export capacity, particularly for small- and medium-sized firms

• align work force development with growth in high-potential clusters

• foster an innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem

• catalyze economic place-making (e.g., recast the economy from an image of traditional manufacturing to more technology-oriented manufacturing and services)

• modernize regional infrastructure

• enhance inter-jurisdictional cooperation and collaboration

Milwaukee’s strategy appears to be more targeted than most other cities’. The Milwaukee MSA has a diverse economic base, with LQs above 1.05 in five industries. Rather than focusing on broader categories, the plan looks at subsectors within large groups, such as energy and energy controls, water science and management, and food production. The other elements of the policy are designed to create economic conditions (through productivity policies) that would benefit almost any industry. These infrastructure and workforce policies seem designed to create a platform for growth for many types of firms.

Finally, as Figure 1 illustrates, Milwaukee’s job growth generally exceeded the region’s average heading into the Great Recession but underperformed the region during the early years of the recovery. Over the past two years, however, Milwaukee’s job growth has been on par with the region’s average.

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[1]See http://mke7.com/~/media/Documents/M7RegionalPlanExecSummary.ashx. (Return to text)

Economic Development in Indianapolis, Indiana

By Rick Mattoon

This is a second in a series of blogs that highlights findings from an upcoming Economic Perspectives article on economic development efforts and industry trends in the largest metropolitan areas in the Seventh District. (For a complete profile of all five cities see, Industrial clusters and economic development in the Seventh District’s largest cities.) This blog focuses on Indianapolis. Like Des Moines, Indianapolis has the advantage of being the state capitol. This helps stabilize its performance in economic downturns. In addition, Indianapolis has a fairly unique regional governance structure called Uni-gov, which it adopted in 1970. This structure supports more unified economic planning across the metropolitan area. When it comes to industry structure, there is a diverse mix of industries in the area, along with some specialized niche industries, such as amateur athletics and auto racing.

Indianapolis MSA Industry Structure

Table 1 displays the industry structure of Indianapolis (based on employment relative to the U.S. as a whole). In addition, the table provides location quotients (LQs)[1] that demonstrate the relative concentration of that industry in the Indianapolis MSA versus the U.S. as a whole. Any score above 1 indicates that the MSA has a concentration above the U.S. average. For example, construction employment in Indianapolis has an LQ of 1.06, which means that its employment share is 6 percent above the U.S. average.

The BLS figures for 2012 have nondisclosure issues for some large sectors, such as manufacturing and accommodations and food service, which likely make significant contributions to the metropolitan economy. Based on the available sectors, Indianapolis’s metropolitan employment shows above national average concentrations in real estate (LQ = 1.1), finance and insurance (1.07), transportation and warehousing (1.66), administrative and waste services (1.29), and construction (1.06).

Indianapolis MSA Economic Development Strategy

Develop Indy is a business unit of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce that partners with a wide array of local agencies to identify the region’s competitive advantages and target industries for growth.[2] The initiative has identified six factors that provide a competitive edge to the region: 1) low cost of doing business, including favorable taxation rates (lowest sales tax rate in the Midwest), real estate prices, and utility rates; 2) superior transportation infrastructure, including five major interstate connections, new airport terminal with significant cargo operations, the second largest Fed Ex hub in the nation, more than 100 trucking companies, five major rail lines, and three maritime ports; 3) available and well-trained work force with skills focused in life sciences, digital technology, advanced manufacturing, logistics, motor sports, and clean technology; 4) global appeal, with large foreign direct investment as evidenced by more than 500 foreign companies in the state; and 5) excellent higher education and cultural institutions, including Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Butler University, University of Indianapolis, and Ivy Tech Community College, amateur and professional sports teams, museums, zoo, and many public parks.

Finally, as the figure below illustrates, employment growth for Indianapolis has done well relative to the Seventh District as a whole. Both before and after the Great Recession, Indianapolis has shown more robust employment gains than has been the case for the District.

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[1]The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines LQs as “ratios that allow an area’s distribution of employment by industry to be compared to a reference or base area’s distribution”. (Return to text)

[2]See developindy.com. (Return to text)

Economic Development in Des Moines, Iowa

By Rick Mattoon

In a forthcoming article in the bank’s Economic Perspectives, I profile the economic development efforts underway in the five largest cities in the Seventh District—Des Moines, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Chicago. (For a complete profile of all five cities see, Industrial clusters and economic development in the Seventh District’s largest cities.) Each city faces its own unique set of challenges and has a distinctive economic base that has influenced its growth path. In a series of blogs, I would like to summarize some of the major trends in each metropolitan economy, starting with Iowa’s capital city—Des Moines.

The Des Moines MSA (metropolitan statistical area) economy has developed a strong mix between financial and professional service firms and manufacturing. In addition, the city benefits from being the capitol of the state, leading to a high concentration in state government employment. Large employers in the area include Wells Fargo (banking), Principal Financial (financial services), Mercy Medical and United Point Health (both health care), DuPont Pioneer (agribusiness), John Deere (agricultural machinery), Marsh (insurance), and UPS (shipment and logistics).

Des Moines MSA Industry Structure

To get a sense of which industries are most important to the metropolitan area’s economy, we can look at its employment concentration in industries relative to the U.S. Table 1 shows the employment percentage for each industry for both the U.S. and the Des Moines MSA. For example, Des Moines has only two industries where the share of local employment is above the national share of employment—wholesale trade and management of companies. In addition, the table provides location quotients (LQs)[1] that demonstrate the relative concentration of each industry in the Des Moines MSA compared with the U.S. A reading of 1 indicates that Des Moines has the same industry employment concentration as the U.S. As the table shows, Des Moines has significantly above average employment concentrations in two industries—wholesale trade at 1.27 ( or 27% above the U.S. average) and management of companies at 1.17. Additionally, Des Moines’s industry concentrations are roughly in line with the U.S. averages for such important industries as construction, retail trade, administrative and waste services, and arts and entertainment. The industries that are much less represented in Des Moines are agriculture, mining, and utilities (although clearly agriculture is of key importance to Iowa as a whole). Interestingly, two sectors that the city targets for growth, professional and business services and manufacturing, have relatively low concentrations (0.74 and 0.64, respectively). In the case of professional and business services, an issue with the data is that nondisclosure rules do not permit an LQ to be calculated for the important finance and insurance sector, which is likely to have high levels of professional employment.

Des Moines MSA Economic Development Strategy

The Greater Des Moines Partnership led an effort to develop a five-year plan for Des Moines and the capital region. The plan aims to position Des Moines as a midsized city with a specialized industry base. It focuses on an industry and demographic comparison with other similar regions, including Omaha, Nebraska, Madison, Wisconsin, and Denver, Colorado. The plan identifies key clusters in which the region is most competitive and recommends that the region market itself specifically to these sectors: finance and insurance; information solutions; health and wellness; agribusiness; manufacturing; and logistics.

The other elements of the plan are similar to most of the other cities’ development plans in stressing appropriate human capital development and work force training. In particular, the Des Moines plan emphasizes developing an employment and training pipeline that meets the needs of local businesses. There is also a geographic component to the plan, targeting growth along the I-35 corridor.

If one reviews the strategy relative to the data on industry structure, it becomes clear that the targets for development consist of a mix of large employment centers (finance and insurance) and logistics-related wholesale trade, as well as historically important industries, such as manufacturing and agribusiness. Manufacturing does not currently represent a high employment concentration in Des Moines, so its inclusion may signal a hope to revive the sector. Given recent speculation that manufacturing is seeing favorable conditions for reshoring of jobs and activities (due to factors such as lower energy costs), many midwestern cities are hoping to restore some manufacturing activity. Finally, Des Moines also benefits from a stable fiscal situation. While the city’s credit rating was recently downgraded by Moody’s due to unfunded pension obligations, it still has an Aa2 rating. And the state government’s fiscal condition is relatively solid.

Finally, Des Moines’ recent economic performance has been quite strong relative to much of the Seventh District. The following chart shows the year-over-year growth in payroll employment for Des Moines versus the Seventh District average. With the exception of a brief period coming out of the Great Recession, the MSA’s employment growth rate has been favorable. In particular, Des Moines has opened a significant gap with the District since 2013.

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[1]The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines LQs as “ratios that allow an area’s distribution of employment by industry to be compared to a reference or base area’s distribution”. (Return to text)