Black-and-white image of a "Help Wanted" ad in the "Jobs" section of a newspaper.

Employers in Grand Traverse County Should Be Cautiously Optimistic, Experts Say

For employers in Grand Traverse County, there’s a lot to be excited about, but uncertainty over tax and health care reform mean cautious optimism is in order.

That was the message from last week’s Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Economic Outlook Breakfast, held at the Grand Traverse Resort. Mitch Stapley, Chief Investment Officer for ClearArc Capital and Jeff Connolly, senior vice president and president for West Michigan and Upper Peninsula for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan delivered the message to a packed 7:30 a.m. crowd.

Stapley pointed to September 2017 unemployment reports that show Grand Traverse County with a 3.8 percent unemployment rate, lower than Michigan’s 4.3 percent rate. He said the only thing holding back some employers from expanding is a lack of qualified workers to draw from.

Tax reforms initiated by Governor Rick Snyder in 2011 have helped create a more hospitable climate for business expansion in the state, Stapley said. He’s hopeful that additional tax reforms on a national level will spur even more economic development, although he acknowledged it’s no simple task.

“Tax reform is tough,” Stapley said. “You’re creating winners and losers.”

Jeff Connolly speaks onstage in front of a Powerpoint presentation.

Jeff Connolly speaking at the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook Breakfast.
Photo credit: Julie Bitely

A continued wild card for business leaders is health care costs. Connolly said uncertainty over efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, as well as lax enforcement of key provisions of the law designed to keep costs lower, have led to premium increases for many.

Health care costs have continued to rise, making health care the nation’s largest industry equaling 17.8 percent of the gross domestic product. Specialty drugs to treat diseases such as cancer and Hepatitis C, while promising in their promise of cures, are significant drivers in health care spending. For example,   some 12-week Hepatitis C treatment options are more than $80,000. Newly approved cancer drugs cost an average of $10,000 per month, with some therapies topping $30,000 per month

Controlling health care costs needs to be a collaborative effort, Connolly said. Health plans such as Blue Cross are increasingly focusing on preventive health care and wellness programs to improve overall population health and thus decrease costs. Providers are encouraged to adopt clinical best practices such as electronic medical records and transforming to a patient-centered medical home model. Consumers also need to be engaged in their own health care, with providers and health plans delivering on their wants and needs with regard to transparency and convenience through technological advancements such as telemedicine and mobile apps to manage care.

With changes in the market, many health plans have dropped out of certain areas in the state. Connolly said Blue Cross is the only health insurance company to service every county in the state of Michigan and will continue to do so. He also said philanthropic support of community and business initiatives across the state, such as the sponsorship of the chamber’s 2017 Business Expo, which immediately followed Tuesday’s breakfast, continues to be a priority.

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Photo credit (feature image): Innovate Impact Media

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