Way back when, I was impressed with a book about limits. The Club of Rome published The Limits to Growth in 1972. Although it tended to underestimate some changes, such as the transformative impact of technological change, it’s had a significant impact on economics for 40 years. To illustrate a technology impact, I read recently with interest that developing countries are embracing WiFi faster than developed ones.
Regarding the Village and Township of Elk Rapids, the population data is interesting. The Village has grown modestly, while most of the population increase in the immediate area is in the part of Elk Rapids Township outside the Village. That trend is likely to continue. So when I read reports from the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) and other similar organizations that tend to measure growth as the main indicator of progress, I wonder what the future of Elk Rapids will actually be.
The Village is significantly constrained by geography. The Bay and the Chain of Lakes constrain the Village to be only two small peninsulas. And even with a rebound in construction, there isn’t much land available for significant population growth. The Cottages and Capa Bran developments add perhaps 100 people. An occasional new house goes up on a vacant lot. Unless a major housing development goes in inland on Meguzee Point, or the golf course converts to housing (Neither is likely.), population growth in the Village is likely to be modest at best.
But population is only one factor of growth. Another is business and industry. After a 35-year hiatus, when I returned to live in Elk Rapids, I was struck by the lack of major change in the downtown, which is not a criticism — just an observation. There had been some change, particularly in the number and quality of the restaurants as well as the concentration of available groceries at the Village Market. There were no longer any gas stations/garages downtown, and I’m struck by the size and scale of the harbor, which is a major business in town. But, for the most part, Elk Rapids business still exists in the shadow of much larger Traverse City, and successful E.R. businesses can migrate to Traverse City to grow.
Regarding industry, there was still evidence of the transformation downward in the Michigan auto industry that impacted our area starting in the 70′s. Signs of this are still obvious, especially along the U.S. 31 corridor. The industrial park has several notable businesses and industries, but it’s rather small. And, as in many area communities, the schools are a major employer. So what are the prospects for growth? According to the NLEA, the forecast is for general recovery from the recession and, at best, modest growth (depending on the sector).
So what? Does it matter that the Village of Elk Rapids will only experience modest growth? Please ponder this question while I do, and I’ll revisit this issue later.