Residential Magazine

Residential Spotlight: Great Lakes Region

Declining population is a concern for these economic giants.

By Jim Davis

After World War I, hundreds of thousands of African Americans fled the South en masse to seek new opportunities in the North, including at the bustling auto plants in Michigan. Among these people were the parents of Berry Gordy Jr., who went on to change America’s cultural landscape.

Gordy founded Motown Records in Detroit in 1959. Motown became one of the most successful Black-owned businesses in the U.S. and an independent record company that became an influential force in the industry. Motown produced some of the most recognizable music acts in the world — Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, and Gladys Knight and the Pips. Motown Records eventually left for Los Angeles and is now owned by Universal Music Group.
Manufacturing remains vital to the Great Lakes Region, which includes Michigan as well as Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin. According to Global Trade magazine, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana ranked in the top 10 for manufacturing in the U.S. in 2019. The Wolverine State still is a top manufacturing state for motor vehicles and auto parts, but it also has diversified into chemical and pharmaceutical production. Ohio is home to more than 12,000 manufacturing companies and the sector accounts for more than one-quarter of Indiana’s economic output.
An astounding 113 companies in the Great Lakes Region landed on the Fortune 500 list in 2022, including some of the most recognizable brands in the world such as McDonald’s in Illinois, Ford Motor Co. in Michigan and UnitedHealth Group in Minnesota. Illinois led the region with 37 Fortune 500 companies, followed by Ohio with 25, Michigan with 19, Minnesota with 16, and Indiana and Wisconsin with eight apiece.
Each of the Great Lakes states ranked in the top half of the U.S. last year in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), or the sum of all goods and services produced. Illinois ranked No. 5 with a GDP of $938.4 billion. Ohio ranked No. 7 at $736.5 billion, followed by Michigan (14th, $568.4 billion), Indiana (No. 17, $420.3 billion), Minnesota (No. 19, $412 billion) and Wisconsin (No. 21, $365.9 billion).
Additionally, all of these states are in the top half of the nation for population size and three are in the top 10 — Illinois at No. 6, Ohio at No. 7 and Michigan at No. 10. But slow rates of population growth (and even an actual loss of residents) are of concern.
Illinois was one of three states in the U.S. that lost population from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 18,000 residents left the Prairie State. (The other two states to lose population were West Virginia and Mississippi.)
Michigan and Ohio were among the slowest-growing states in the U.S. over the decade with gains of 0.19% and 0.23%, respectively, according to the Pew Charitable Trust. And it got worse in 2021 as the populations of Illinois, Michigan and Ohio shrank. Minnesota’s population stayed flat while Indiana and Wisconsin grew slightly. ●
The Great Lakes Region features some of the most affordable housing in the U.S. Each of these six states have typical home values below that of the U.S. as a whole, which was $344,441 this past April, according to Zillow.
Great Lakes home prices, however, have escalated quickly over the past two years. Each state in the region saw home values increase by $50,000 or more during this time. Ohio, the most affordable state in the region, saw its values soar from $153,593 in March 2020 to $205,553 in April 2022 (a 34% increase). Minnesota has the most expensive housing in the region and saw typical values rise from $263,708 to $330,167 for a 25% increase over this span.
These states also have some of the oldest housing in the nation. The median age of the housing stock in all six of the Great Lakes states is 41 to 50 years old, according to estimates from the National Association of Home Builders. Additionally, all six states landed in the top 20 in the nation for total dollars spent on home renovations, according to a 2018 analysis by remodeling website Fixr. Illinois ranked No. 6 that year with $8.6 billion spent on home improvements.

Focus: Shipping

The Great Lakes — Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie and Ontario — contain one-fifth of all surface freshwater in the world. The lakes and connecting canals also are a vital cog in the regional economy.
Shipping on the lakes accounted for $35 billion in economic activity in 2021 and supported more than 200,000 jobs. This includes the Great Lakes states as well as Canadian provinces. Coal, iron ore, limestone, and other raw materials and goods are shipped daily across the lakes.
Indiana has only 43 miles of lake shore, but nearly 31 million tons of cargo per year are shipped in and out of the state, which is the largest steel producer in the U.S. The shipping industry employs 66,000 people in the Hoosier State, generating $4.9 billion in personal income, according to the American Great Lakes Ports Association. Ohio comes in second in the region with 33,000 shipping jobs, good for $2.21 billion in personal income.

What the locals say

“It’s a huge purchase market at this point. I have very few refis even in process because of the rising rates. The construction industry here in Michigan is really flourishing and a lot of the construction is geared toward first-time homebuyers. There’s a lot of people buying this year even with the rates where they are today. Of course, that means you have bidding wars with multiple offers on one home. I’m seeing it in all markets. It can be discouraging for some, but I always let my clients know that sometimes three times is the charm and sometimes 13 times is the charm.”
Sandi Frith
Assistant vice president and loan officer
Huntington National Bank

3 Cities to Watch

Lying on the western banks of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin with 570,000 residents and a metro-area population of 1.5 million. Founded in the 1830s as a series of fur-trading villages, Milwaukee rose to prominence due in part to its easily accessible harbor. Its largest employers include Advocate Aurora Health, which has 32,000 workers. Marketing company Quad (7,500 employees), retailer Kohl’s (6,200) and Harley-Davidson (2,300) are each headquartered in the area.
The Washburn Crosby Company Mill and the Pillsbury Company Mill were the two largest flour mills in the U.S. when they were built in Minneapolis in the late 1800s. The two companies competed for many decades and Washburn, now known as General Mills, bought out Pillsbury in 2001. Minneapolis (population of 425,000 with nearly 3 million in the metro area) is a hub for several Fortune 500 companies, including General Mills, U.S. Bancorp, conglomerate 3M, and retailers Best Buy and Target.
Founded in 1796, Cleveland (population of 368,000 and 2 million metro-area residents) is named after Gen. Moses Cleaveland, who led the survey party to the area. The “a” in Cleveland was dropped when a local newspaper left it out to fit the name on its masthead. Major employers include several health care providers (the Cleveland Clinic employs more than 32,000) along with federal, state and local government. The U.S. Office of Personnel employs more than 12,000 workers in the city.
Sources: American Great Lakes Ports Association,, Cleveland Department of Economic Development, Detroit Historical Society, Detroit Public Television, Fixr, Fortune, Global Trade, Inside Indiana Business, Los Angeles Times, Meet Minneapolis, Metropolitan Council, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Milwaukee Public Broadcasting Service, Minneapolis-Saint Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership, National Association of Home Builders, Pew Charitable Trust, Twin Cities Business, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, World Population Review, Zillow


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