Emsi: Mound Road Case Study
Like much of urban Michigan, Macomb County and the cities of Sterling Heights and Warren have a long history of being built on a manufacturing economy. But unlike the popular image of a sector in decline, Macomb County’s manufacturing businesses remain a strong and essential part of the region’s economic picture. That’s why, when the county needed to prove the urgency of funding infrastructure supporting that sector’s hub, they turned to data from Emsi.
Macomb County, in southeastern Michigan, is home to two very different economies. In the north, the county is sparsely populated and primarily agricultural. But in the south, near the cities of Sterling Heights and Warren, there’s one of the most concentrated manufacturing areas in the country – the Mound Road industrial corridor.
Centered on an 8-mile stretch of Mound Road connecting Sterling Heights and Warren, the corridor has been a crucial part of the state’s economy since the second World War, when it was home to many of the new vehicle facilities opened to support the war effort. When the war ended, those facilities were turned to civilian purposes, and over the following decade the Mound Road corridor grew to include dozens of businesses that directly employ people in thousands of jobs. And that’s not including the enormous multiplier effect that manufacturing activity has through the support businesses it requires. In total, the city of Sterling Heights is home to 127,000 jobs supported by manufacturing.
Like any industrial zone, however, the corridor depends on its surrounding infrastructure. If transportation can’t get in and out of the area easily, manufacturing businesses will suffocate. And despite its crucial importance, Mound Road is in bad shape. “Mound Road is past its life,” said John Crumm, Director of Planning for Macomb County’s Department of Roads. “The way we’ve been dealing with Mound Road was with concrete replacement, which is a middle of the road fix for roads with minor problems. We needed to be totally reconstructing the road.”
County officials weren’t alone in thinking the road needed serious reconstruction. “We were hearing it from the companies, too,” Crumm said. “It impacts the sale-ability and retention of businesses in the corridor.” But the estimated $217 million cost to build the road was far beyond the county or local cities’ abilities to pay. That meant reaching out for federal funding.
To put together a compelling case that rehabilitating Mound Road was worth federal attention, the county and cities, along with local industry representatives and others with an interest in the corridor, formed the Innovate Mound Road Executive Committee. In spring 2017, the committee commissioned a report that would prove, beyond just anecdotal information, that the reconstruction of the road would be economically crucial. “In the beginning, we were trying to tell the story on anecdotal information,” Crumm explained. “We needed to have the story told in a study that gave us hard numbers, to have numbers that have been done in a systematic way, a scientific way.” That was why they called Emsi.
Luke Bonner, CEO of the advisory group that put together the overall report, put it another way: “Emsi data was crucial to provide perspective of impact of Sterling Heights and the Mound Road Corridor to the rest to of the country. Without that information our purpose would have hinged on story telling—and Emsi allowed us to paint a picture that expresses significant economic magnitude that is peerless.”
Some of the committee members were already familiar with Emsi, since the City of Sterling Heights has used Emsi data extensively in the past. “Emsi was a neutral third party that provided us with a non-biased look at the corridor to say how much value it created,” Crumm said. “It’s a unique niche to do corridor studies for economic impact. And Emsi knew what we needed and how to approach it so that it was statistically sound and easy to work with.”
Emsi found that the businesses on the Mound Road corridor were directly responsible for 47,200 jobs. But thanks to their multiplier effect, they are responsible for an additional 172,100 “downstream jobs”—71,100 in Macomb County alone, and a further 101,000 in the rest of Michigan. The 118,200 jobs in Macomb County represent $8.7 billion in salaries and benefits, and $700 million in tax revenue from production. These are jobs and economic activities that rely on the existence of Mound Road.
With Emsi’s data incorporated into the committee’s report, Crumm says that their efforts to prove their case in Washington, D.C. have been successful. “We’ve done some preliminary discussions with legislators and the Department of Transportation in D.C … and they were very impressed by the data. It made all the difference in the world to tell our story with quantifiable numbers instead of anecdotes. We were talking to representatives in Senate and the House who might not know anything about Macomb County. There was a lot to tell about how important this was, and this really helped.”
It also helps that the Mound Road proposal is much more than just repaving a road. The committee’s plan for the new road incorporates a variety of high-tech innovations. These include features like Intelligent Transportation Systems, as well as cutting-edge technology for connected and autonomous vehicles. The county has already invested in smart traffic signals and other advances, working in partnership with the automakers that call the corridor home.
Bonner laid out the vision for the project this way: “Ideally Mound Road will become a state-of-the-art road utilizing bridge treatment for snow and ice, interconnected vehicle technology, enhanced pedestrian features like skywalks at two central locations, increased capacity improvements to mitigate traffic congestion, and other vehicular and transit-oriented improvements.”
At this point, the Mound Road project hopes to get its first round of funding approved in spring 2018, with construction actually beginning in 2020. Although federal grant decisions move slowly, everyone involved with the committee is optimistic about the next steps for Mound Road. “I think we fit in well with the grants that we’re looking at,” said Crumm. “We meet criteria like involving manufacturing and keeping jobs, and from conversations we’ve had with the Department of Transportation and at the federal level they’re very excited about it. We really think we’re going to get funded.”