Although statistics show a rebound in employment in Michigan, shippers have mixed views about the future of the state’s produce industry.
The Michigan Department of Technology, Labor and Budget reported in September that unemployment in the state had declined to 11.1%, down from 12% a year earlier and 14% at the same time in 2009.
Jim Heeren, president of Grand Rapids-based Heeren Bros. Inc., said the recession isn’t over in the Great Lakes State.
“Unemployment has gotten a little bit better, but we have a long way to go,” he said. “There’s more optimism. Car sales have been good the last couple months, but I’m not sold on it. People are still losing their houses and getting foreclosed. We’re not out of it yet.”
Michigan’s economy is heavily dependent on the automobile industry. The state has about 35,000 jobs in auto manufacturing, down from 92,500 10 years ago and more than 100,000 in 1990, according to the state labor department.
Things are starting to look up for the major U.S. manufacturers, according to The Wall Street Journal. Through October, year-to-date sales for Ford (10.8%), General Motors (14.9%) and Chrysler (23.5%) all showed double-digit increases.
“Detroit has a stigma that isn’t entirely accurate,” said Nate Stone, chief operating officer for Ben B. Schwartz & Sons, Inc., Detroit.
“There seems to be plenty of business for everyone. People are eating more fresh produce than ever. Baby Boomers are living longer and trying to eat healthier. You have a generation of people eating more salads, fresh fruit and vegetables.”
However, Brandon Serra, salesman for Serra Bros. Inc., said the prolonged recession has affected the way some customers do business on the Detroit Produce Terminal.
“People are buying differently,” he said. “They want to get No. 1 quality at No. 2 price. Guys that used to pay top dollar don’t want to do that anymore. We have to be pickier on price when we’re buying. It makes us more competitive.”
Michigan, with nearly 10 million people, was the only state to lose population in the 2010 census. While the overall 0.6% drop was modest, population declines were severe in some areas. Detroit lost a quarter of its population in the past decade, dropping to 713,000 people, down from more than 950,000 in 2000.
At its peak, the Motor City had more than 1.8 million residents in 1950.
While the city’s population has declined, some suburbs are growing. The metro area still has a population of about 4.4 million.
Jeff Abrash, owner, of Andrews Bros. Inc., Detroit, said business remains steady at the Detroit Produce Terminal.
“There are still about 5 million people in the area,” he said. “That’s a lot of mouths to feed. That means tremendous opportunity. ”
Dominic Russo, produce buyer and sales for Rocky Produce Inc., Detroit, also was optimistic.
“I think there is a better feeling in our community,” he said. “Everyone is working hard. Companies are hiring, and people are taking on jobs and getting back in the workforce. Things are definitely looking up for Detroit.”