Study pegs Lansing among fastest growing regions in Midwest

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Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to clarify that migration trends examined by CommercialCafe were between metropolitan statistical areas, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau — which locally includes the entirety of Clinton, Eaton, Ingham and Shiawassee counties. Several city-specific references to “Lansing” were corrected to read “Greater Lansing.”

A recent population analysis shows that people are moving to Greater Lansing at a faster rate than any other metropolitan area in the Midwest. And most of them are coming from Detroit.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor declared himself “pissed off” last year when the latest U.S. Census results tracked an overall 1.8% population decline in the Capital City between 2010 and 2020 — a population dent large enough to have him contemplate challenging those decennial results.

But this week, Schor’s administration is a bit more optimistic about those population trends — particularly after an analysis from CommercialCafe pegged the Lansing region as having the highest average annual population gain in the Midwest, specifically from other metropolitan areas.

The study listed Greater Lansing as the “fastest-growing Midwest metro” with an average of 7,538 new residents gained per year from other Midwest metropolitans. Notably, the region — which includes the entirety of Ingham, Clinton, Eaton and Shiawassee counties — has gained the most residents from Detroit while its population exchange with Grand Rapids stayed mostly flat.

“I am excited but not surprised to hear this great news,” Schor said. “We know that people are moving to Lansing, both anecdotally and with the small vacancy rate in many new housing projects, and I am excited to see this report showing that people are moving to the city.”

Using inter-city migration data released in late September by the U.S. Census Bureau, CommercialCafe winnowed down the 10 Midwest regions that gained the most residents at the expense of others. Net gains were calculated by deducting the number of residents lost to other metropolitan areas from the number of residents gained from other metropolitan areas.

And Greater Lansing came out on top — in a big way.

The study shows that an average of about 7,600 Detroiters have moved to the Capital City area annually, compared to only about 3,800 Lansing residents moving to the Motor City. It also showed that about 2,800 Grand Rapids residents and 2,000 Flint residents relocated to Greater Lansing annually — a relatively even trade for Grand Rapids and a majorly disproportionate draw from Flint, where fewer than 1,000 local residents have relocated annually over the last five years.

In a statement, Schor added: “Lansing is a great place to live, work, raise a family and retire. I’m very happy to see that others in Michigan agree and are choosing to move here. Overall, this is fantastic news that can only make Lansing, and our entire region, even stronger in the future.”

Greater Lansing’s five-year surge in annual metro-to-metro migration put the region in the top spot on CommercialCafe’s latest ranking. The region also edged out second-place finisher Champaign, Illinois, by more than 1,500 new residents. Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids also ranked in the top 10 metro areas in the Midwest with an average, respectively, of about 5,100 and 4,500 new residents each year.

Ann Arbor has also lost about 1,000 people to Greater Lansing annually since 2015, the data showed.

“This is the result of 15 years of consistent, aggressive, smart, regional, economic development,” said Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, or LEAP. “I’m always asking newcomers to our area why they’re moving here. It’s always about affordability and some type of connection to Michigan State University. Our region is a true goldilocks in the Midwest — it’s this perfect balance between a moderate-sized community, quality of life and affordability.”

Schor has also touted Lansing as the “most affordable city” in America, a reference to the city being named at the top of Livability.com’s “Top 100 Most Affordable Small to Mid-Sized Cities” list in 2018. The city hasn’t ranked on that listing since, but officials said not much has changed.

Census data shows the average monthly rent in Lansing is about $819 compared to $824 in Detroit. Mortgages in Lansing are also about $999 a month, compared to $1,099 in Detroit. Grand Rapids was even higher — with rent at about $925 and monthly mortgages at $1,124.

“With the pandemic, people have been able to do remote work in different places, and it’s great to see Lansing as that destination,” said Steve Japinga, vice president at the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Besides MSU right in our backyard and being the Capital City, it’s pretty affordable. I think people are finding their dollar stretches a lot further here in Lansing.”

MSU has also tracked record-breaking enrollment levels in recent years, which economic development officials said has naturally led to an increase in young professionals in the region. Last fall brought in more than 9,000 new undergraduate students to campus — an all-time high for the university and a signal to Greater Lansing that the pipeline of fresh talent is still flowing.

Trezise added: “More importantly, what we’re seeing right now is more strategic growth. It’s not out of control with constant gentrification. It’s clear that regional efforts to diversify our economy have had a profound impact. We’ve found we’re also attracting and retaining Generation Z, showing the city has become an increasingly attractive place for young people to live and work.”

The CommercialCafe analysis cited a few other factors that are driving population growth locally, including people moving to Lansing to take a job at one of the state’s many government agencies or at “several major General Motors operations and a robust insurance sector.”

Data from LEAP shows that the majority of local residents — about 55,000 people — work either for the state, MSU, Sparrow, General Motors, Lansing Community College, McLaren, Auto-Owners Insurance, Peckham, Jackson National Life Insurance or Dart Container. 

While Schor said his administration is pleased with the longer-term trends, his new chief of staff, Jane Bais-DiSessa, is still actively pursuing a potential challenge to the latest census results.

She said fluctuations in decennial census counts could potentially spell the difference between hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding including through Medicaid, Head Start, block grant programs for community mental health services and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as SNAP. The decennial census results also help ensure that communities like Lansing get their fair share for schools, hospitals, roads and public works based on the number of residents that benefit from those public services. They can also help private businesses decide which cities are most worthy of continued investment, officials said.

Bais-DiSessa suspects that a few new housing developments were left out of the latest census, a mystery that she hopes to have solved his year ahead of the challenge deadline in 2023.

She’s also exploring discrepancies between ratepayer data from the Board of Water & Light.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s office is also contemplating a Census challenge after the city reportedly lost about 10.5% of its population (nearly 75,000 people) since 2010. After talking with staffers in Detroit, Bais-DiSessa said Lansing has a “good chance” at a viable challenge.

Which Midwestern regions are  seeing the most metro-to-metro migration?

1. Lansing — 7,538

2. Champaign, Illinois — 5,949

3. Columbus, Ohio — 5,453

4. Ann Arbor — 5,104

5. Grand Rapids — 4,473

6. Des Moines, Iowa — 4,372

7. Lincoln, Nebraska — 4,012

8. Lafayette, Indiana — 3,820

9. Dayton, Ohio — 3,262

10. Cincinnati, Ohio — 2,390

Where is Greater Lansing drawing its population?

1. Detroit — 7,606

2. Grand Rapids — 2,806

3. Flint — 1,962

Where is Greater Lansing losing its population?

1. Detroit — 3,794

2. Grand Rapids — 2,829

3. Ann Arbor — 967

Source: U.S. Census Bureau & Commercial Cafe

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