Economic Stickhandling across the Gordie Howe International Bridge

Jul 31, 2015

The new super-connection to be built between Windsor and Detroit has been officially named the Gordie Howe International Bridge. (It will be constructed not far south of the current pressed-beyond-capacity Ambassador Bridge.)

2015 07 31 US Canada Motor Vehicle Sales Graphic

“Mr. Hockey” was the great Canadian-born (Floral, Saskatchewan) NHL player who, during his most dominant years in the late 1940s and early 1950s, helped his Red Wings teams win four Stanley Cups. He’s long been a hero on both sides of the border.    

To the north, the economy of the province of Ontario is hoping for a revival of its manufacturing sector. A sub-80-cent Canadian dollar should be an aid to export sales.

To the south, manufacturing activity has also always been a mainstay of the state economies in the Great Lakes region of the U.S., although at the start-up of the new millennium, offshoring of work to cheaper labor-cost countries overseas resulted in numerous plant closings.

Many of those Asian enterprises are now contending with higher payrolls. Furthermore, U.S. firms, thanks to hydraulic fracturing, have gained an energy supply and cost advantage; although opposite to Ontario-based firms, their export sales must overcome a strong-valued U.S. dollar.

This article will compare the 13 largest population centers in the heartland of America according to 10 economic measures. The city designations are metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs).

MSA boundaries include both the downtown core and closely integrated living and working zones in surrounding areas.

My ‘central region’ definition is pretty broad, extending as far east as Buffalo and Pittsburgh. To the south, it embraces Louisville. The western edge is prairie-land farming country.

Among the smaller cities that haven’t made the scrutinized listing are Wichita and Dayton.

I’m pleased to mention Dayton, because it has an interesting back-story. We think of Silicon Valley as the world-wide center of technological innovation today.

There was a time, a little more than 100 years ago, when Dayton could have been labeled with that description.

While it may seem nearly unbelievable how rapidly high-tech is changing the world in the 2000s, this isn’t as unique a phenomenon as one might suppose.

Wilbur and Orville Wright were bicycle shop owners, living and working in Dayton, Ohio, when they designed their heavier-than-air flying ‘contraption’. To help with their understanding of wing aerodynamics, and stabilization control, they invented a wind tunnel.

It’s amazing to consider that after their first manned flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in December 1903, there was a passage of little more than a decade before vicious ‘dogfights’ were being staged in the skies over Europe, during World War I.

How disturbing is it that war has often shifted technology advances into overdrive? Nor has that changed up to the present. Think unmanned aerial vehicles (a.k.a., drones).

The Carrick family, during its drives this summer, has been listening to the audiobook version of Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss and the Battle to Control the Skies, written by Lawrence Goldstone.

There were a great many more conflicting patent streams and head-butting character interactions in the early days of flight than most of us would ever imagine.

And Wichita can’t be discussed without reference to Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned corporation in the U.S. (Cargill is number one.)

The Koch Brothers, Charles and David, have gained a great deal of fame – or notoriety, depending on perspective − for contributing to political causes with a libertarian slant. More recently, they’ve been known to support Republican Tea Party ideals.

Donald Trump likes to say that, with an estimated worth of $10 billion, he’s by far the richest man to ever throw his hat into the ring to head up the Republican Party.

Before he gets too carried away, he might want to consider the following. His wealth is post-meal ‘tip’ money to the Koch Brothers.

Has anyone asked them how they feel about Mr. Trump’s candidacy? I’m just wondering.

Anyway, returning to the 13 cities in the Great Lakes/Central region.

Tables 1 and 2: Naturally enough, Chicago is in first place with respect to its total population.

Detroit’s runner-up status is a bit of an eye-opener, though. Detroit’s declining population was one major cause of the city’s descent into financial bankruptcy. Property and other tax dollars evaporated. 

But that net emigration was from the urban core. For a visual record of the structural devastation left behind, − in other words, abandoned buildings – watch the TV series, Low Winter Sun, on Netflix.

When all its interconnected suburbs are included, Detroit is still a formidable population center.

Furthermore, MSA Detroit’s population has stayed constant (0.0% in Table 2) during the latest four years for which data is available.

Columbus (+1.22%) is at the top of the second chart for average population change, 2010 to 2014, followed by Indianapolis (+1.11%) and Minneapolis-St. Paul (+1.09%).

Pittsburgh (0.00%), like Detroit, has been flat and Buffalo (+0.02%) has barely registered an increase, but only Cleveland (-0.17%) has recorded a decline.

Tables 3 and 4: Nine of the 13 cities have current unemployment rates either the same as the national average (5.3%), or better (i.e., less). That’s not bad. Best of all is Minneapolis-St. Paul (3.4%).

Chicago disappoints with a 5.8% jobless rate and Detroit’s lingering hangover is apparent from its 6.6% figure.

Detroit’s year-over-year employment growth is writing a new chapter, though, +2.7% compared with a country-wide +2.1%. Only Indianapolis (+3.0%) and Louisville (+2.9%) have been generating jobs at a faster pace.

Tables 5 and 6: And how about that 6.0% year-over-year gain in manufacturing jobs in Detroit? It’s being driven by an auto sector that is experiencing strong customer demand in both the U.S. and Canada (see Graphs 1 and 2).

U.S. motor vehicle sales are now back as high as they have ever been. In Canada, the sales level has risen 12% beyond its previous peak. There is abundant cross-border trade in vehicle and parts production.

Indianapolis (+3.7%), Cincinnati (+3.4%), Kansas City (+2.7%) and Minneapolis-St. Paul (+2.3%) are also showing solid increases in manufacturing employment.

Milwaukee (-0.8%) and Chicago (-1.1%) are the laggards.

Important for institutional construction are investments in educational and health care facilities.

Columbus (+5.5%) is currently experiencing the greatest year-over-year rise in school and hospital employment. Louisville (+4.5%) is riding a surge as well.

Table 7 and 8: For the four final tables, our discussion will relocate into residential real estate markets.

During the first half of this year, Chicago (7,566 units) recorded the most new home groundbreakings. Minneapolis-St. Paul (5,092 units) was a worthy second.

It might be expected that larger population centers will normally have higher levels of nominal housing starts. Therefore, the percentage change may be more significant. On that count, Detroit (+11.0%) surprises once again, even though it has to share top spot with Milwaukee (also +11.0%)

Only 5 of the 13 cities have percentage changes that are pluses. Five of the other nine are burdened with minuses that are in double-digits.

The declines in St. Louis (-15.0%) and Pittsburgh (-27.0%) are more significant since they have larger resident counts than Cincinnati (-16.0%) and Louisville (-29.0%).   

Tables 9 and 10: To some degree, a comparison of the median levels (i.e., the mid-point where half the observations are higher and half are lower) of existing home sales prices can serve as a proxy for relative prosperity.

According to such a yardstick, Minneapolis-St. Paul ($209,400) is royalty among the baker’s dozen.

Big-city Chicago ($192,500) is in third place, below Milwaukee ($195,400), but above Kansas City ($153,000).

If all other factors were equal, ownership housing in Cleveland ($105,900) would be seen as a not-to-be-missed bargain.

As for a year-over-year change in home prices, caution should be employed in its interpretation. The calculation can yield outsized results if the year-before number (i.e., the divisor in the equation) is especially low.

St. Louis (+11.9%) and Cincinnati (+10.9%) probably fall into the foregoing category.

The jumps in Minneapolis-St. Paul (+11.3%) and Columbus (+10.9%) seem more legitimately impressive.  

As a final step, I also calculated the average ranking for each of the 13 cities across all 10 economic categories, then ranked those averages.

Wish I was a better golfer. Then I’d have greater moral authority when I say, “At the top of the ‘leader board’ is Minneapolis-St. Paul.”

Indianapolis claims second spot, with Columbus in third.

Chicago and Detroit are tied for fourth. That’s a more than decent showing for Detroit, given that not so long ago its status could best be characterized as ‘living on the streets’.

Four of the five lowest positions are filled by Milwaukee, St. Louis, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

Cleveland is in last place.  

U.S. Great Lakes/Central Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs)
Table 1: Major U.S. Great Lakes/Central Cities Ranked by: table 2: Major U.S. Great Lakes/Central Cities Ranked by:
Population in Millions (2014 estimates) Annual Average Population Change (2010 to 2014)
1 Chicago 9.55 1 Columbus 1.22%
2 Detroit 4.30 2 Indianapolis 1.11%
3 Minneapolis-St. Paul 3.50 3 Minneapolis-St. Paul 1.09%
4 St. Louis 2.81 4 Kansas City 0.77%
5 Pittsburgh 2.36 5 Louisville 0.69%
6 Cincinnati 2.15 6 Cincinnati 0.41%
7 Kansas City 2.07 7 Milwaukee 0.26%
8 Cleveland 2.06 8 Chicago 0.25%
9 Columbus 2.00 9 St. Louis 0.17%
10 Indianapolis 1.97 10 Buffalo 0.02%
11 Milwaukee 1.57 11 Detroit 0.00%
12 Louisville 1.27 11 Pittsburgh 0.00%
13 Buffalo 1.14 13 Cleveland -0.17%
U.S.  0.70%
Data source: Census Bureau / Tables: CMD.
Table 3: Major U.S. Great Lakes/Central Cities Ranked by: table 4: Major U.S. Great Lakes/Central Cities Ranked by:
Unemployment Rate (May 2015) Yr/yr Total Non-farm Employment Change
1 Minneapolis-St. Paul 3.4% 1 Indianapolis 3.0%
2 Columbus 4.0% 2 Louisville 2.9%
3 Cincinnati 4.3% 3 Detroit 2.7%
4 Indianapolis 4.5% 4 Buffalo 2.3%
5 Louisville 4.7% 5 Cincinnati 2.2%
6 Milwaukee 5.2% 6 Minneapolis-St. Paul 1.8%
6 Pittsburgh 5.2% 7 Pittsburgh 1.7%
8 Buffalo 5.3% 8 Columbus 1.6%
8 Kansas City 5.3% 8 Kansas City 1.6%
10 St. Louis 5.5% 10 Cleveland 1.5%
11 Chicago 5.8% 11 Chicago 1.2%
12 Cleveland 6.0% 12 St. Louis 0.9%
13 Detroit 6.6% 13 Milwaukee 0.7%
U.S.  5.3% U.S.  2.1%
Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics / Tables: CMD.
Table 5: Major U.S. Great Lakes/Central Cities Ranked by: table 6: Major U.S. Great Lakes/Central Cities Ranked by:
Yr/yr Manufacturing Employment Change Yr/yr Education & Health Employment Change
1 Detroit 6.0% 1 Columbus 5.5%
2 Indianapolis 3.7% 2 Louisville 4.5%
3 Cincinnati 3.4% 3 Milwaukee 2.9%
4 Kansas City 2.7% 4 Pittsburgh 2.4%
5 Minneapolis-St. Paul 2.3% 5 Detroit 1.9%
6 Louisville 2.0% 6 Chicago 1.8%
7 St. Louis 1.2% 7 Minneapolis-St. Paul 1.7%
8 Buffalo 1.0% 8 Buffalo 1.6%
9 Pittsburgh 0.9% 9 Indianapolis 1.5%
10 Cleveland 0.8% 10 St. Louis 1.4%
11 Columbus 0.6% 11 Cleveland 0.9%
12 Milwaukee -0.8% 12 Kansas City 0.7%
13 Chicago -1.1% 13 Cincinnati -1.6%
U.S.  1.3% U.S.  2.7%
Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics / Tables: CMD.
Table 7: Major U.S. Great Lakes/Central Cities Ranked by: table 8: Major U.S. Great Lakes/Central Cities Ranked by:
1st Half Residential Building Permits (units) Yr/yr Change in 1st Half Residential Bldg Permits
1 Chicago 7,566 1 Detroit 11.0%
2 Minneapolis-St. Paul 5,092 1 Milwaukee 11.0%
3 Indianapolis 3,897 3 Indianapolis 8.0%
4 Kansas City 3,707 4 Cleveland 5.0%
5 Detroit 3,226 5 Buffalo 2.0%
6 St. Louis 3,144 6 Chicago -1.0%
7 Columbus 2,731 7 Minneapolis-St. Paul -4.0%
8 Cincinnati 2,057 8 Columbus -9.0%
9 Louisville 1,624 9 Kansas City -10.0%
10 Pittsburgh 1,511 10 St. Louis -15.0%
11 Cleveland 1,384 11 Cincinnati -16.0%
12 Milwaukee 1,184 12 Pittsburgh -27.0%
13 Buffalo 714 13 Louisville -29.0%
      U.S.  17.0%
Data source: National Association of Home Builders / Tables: CMD.
Table 9: Major U.S. Great Lakes/Central Cities Ranked by: table 10: Major U.S. Great Lakes/Central Cities Ranked by:
Median Single-family Home Sales Price (Q1 15) Median Single-family Home Sales Price (Q1 15)
1 Minneapolis-St. Paul $209,400 1 St. Louis 11.9%
2 Milwaukee $195,400 2 Minneapolis-St. Paul 11.3%
3 Chicago $192,500 3 Cincinnati 10.9%
4 Kansas City $153,000 3 Columbus 10.9%
5 Columbus $149,900 5 Chicago 8.8%
6 Louisville $141,100 6 Kansas City 8.7%
7 Indianapolis $139,200 7 Louisville 7.6%
8 Cincinnati $135,000 8 Milwaukee 5.1%
9 St. Louis $134,800 9 Indianapolis 4.7%
10 Buffalo $117,300 10 Cleveland 3.7%
11 Cleveland $105,900 11 Buffalo -3.9%
12 Detroit n/a 12 Detroit n/a
13 Pittsburgh n/a 13 Pittsburgh n/a
$205,200 U.S.  7.4%
Source: National Association of Realtors / Tables: CMD.
Graph 1: Total motor vehicle sales in the U.S.
(12-month moving totals)
Total motor vehicle sales in the U.S.
Based on not seasonally adjusted (NSA) numbers.
Data source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) / Chart: CMD.
Graph 2: Total motor vehicle sales in Canada
(12-month moving totals)
Total motor vehicle sales in Canada
Based on not seasonally adjusted (NSA) numbers.
Data source: Statistics Canada / Chart: CMD.

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