Agriculture may be the lifeblood of the region, but health care is king when it comes to Tuscola County’s job growth – increasing 34 percent since 2000.
According to the Michigan Department of Management, Technology & Budget, the number of healthcare jobs in Tuscola County increased by 400, or 34 percent, during the 2000-2014 period (the most recent figures available). By comparison, Huron County increased by 85, or 5.5 percent, during the same timeframe.
Numbers provided by Tuscola County show Caro Regional Center, Caro Community Hospital, and Hills & Dales in Cass City among the top employers who have seen consistent growth.
The increase in health care jobs is the highlight of the period that The Advertiser examined as Tuscola County unemployment rates – on the surface – appear to be approaching the lowest levels since 2000 at 4.5 percent (figures do not include those who no longer qualify for unemployment benefits).
“Unemployment rates are definitely below the 2000 annual averages,” said Kevin Doyle, Economic Analyst, Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget. “But I also think it’s important to contextualize those with where employment and labor force numbers each stand.”
The labor force in Tuscola County in September 2000 was 28,440 with 27,735 employed. That’s compared with this September, when the labor force was at 24,430 and the number employed was 23,337. That’s equates to a drop of about 15 percent in the labor force and number employed in Tuscola County.
Hardest hit was the area’s manufacturing industry, where the number of jobs has fallen about 40 percent since 2000 (statewide the number is down 34 percent).
“That gives some pretty important context to the unemployment rate discussion,” Doyle said.
Mike Hoagland, controller, Tuscola County, said a shrinking labor force is consistent with a continually declining population in the county. It dropped from an estimated 57,502 in 2005 to 53,777 in 2015.
The impact is felt throughout the community, he said.
“If we’re not creating jobs, the tax base suffers,” Hoagland said.
Doyle pointed out, however, that there are areas showing strength.
Agriculture, fishing and forestry and the industry that includes employment and temp services “have seen strong growth since 2000,” he said.
“Although there’s been a pretty strong national trend towards rising numbers of jobs in employment services in general, this industry made much stronger gains in Huron and Tuscola than in the state as a whole,” Doyle said. “Employment more than doubled in employment services in Tuscola and Huron counties, but gained only about 2 percent in the state as a whole.”
Health care has seen the most growth, however, as demand for services by an aging population continues — with no signs of slowing down.
“We have an aging population, increased demand for services, which in turn is going to increase demand for workers at all levels,” said Christine Trisch, commissioner, Tuscola County, whose professional background is working as director of risk & quality and corporate compliance officer at Caro Community Hospital.
Nurses and lab technicians are just some of the most in-demand jobs in the area, as well as family physicians, Trisch said.
“We definitely need family physicians in this area, though it’s really hard to get them here because it’s rural,” Trisch said. “The jobs are there.”
Trisch pointed to the Caro Regional Center as an example where she anticipates growth for services provided by the organization. It’s already the second largest employer in Tuscola County, behind the county itself.
Tuscola County health care companies are investing in infrastructure, too.
As The Advertiser reported in May, the Tuscola County Medical Care Facility is set to “easily” double in size – with a goal of offering area seniors more assisted-living options and bringing more jobs to the Thumb region. The facility has 159 beds and 350 employees.
Cass City’s Hills and Dales General Hospital plans to begin construction next spring on $6 million in renovations.
Changes will include: two renovated patient rooms on the inpatient floor; a change in the layout of our inpatient floor; this will include updates to the physical therapy area, as well as the nurse’s station, activities room, offices, and storage for the second floor; an expansion to the front of the hospital which will become clinic space for two Hills & Dales Physicians, as well as our Specialty Physician Clinic and our After Hours Clinic. These clinics will be directly accessible from the main entrance of the hospital.
Danielle Blaine, director of public relations, Hills and Dales, said a number of factors are driving increased demand for the hospital’s services, including quality and newly available technologies. Since 2000, Hills and Dales has added about 100 jobs, Blaine said.
At the same time, Caro Community Hospital is growing, too, with plans to establish an after hours clinic in downtown Caro at the site of a bank branch that recently closed. The clinic is expected to lead to five new jobs.
Marc Augsburger, president and CEO, Caro Community Hospital, said the organization expects to continually grow due to “new/more services, unfunded federal government mandates, more paperwork required for reporting to state and federal agencies, and greatly enhanced quality initiatives have all contributed to the increased employment numbers.”
“We are looking for more health care providers and constantly adding new services, which will also increase our employment numbers,” he said.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org