Approximately 20,000 on-campus Central Michigan University students migrate to and from the city each year, dividing the community’s fiscal year into two nine month halves.
Managing the ebb and flow of a cycling consumer and employee base presents an unique economic climate for Mount Pleasant, for which this population impact is more influential than in larger college communities. The duality of the Mount Pleasant economy keeps it dynamic.
“If you look at it compared to an Ann Arbor or East Lansing, you have a buffer against the seasonality of students,” said Brian Anderson, president of the Middle Michigan Development Corporation. “If you’re going to look at it as a challenge, it’s pretty much all positive. Businesses know how to adapt and change with demand.”
Anderson said business owners have told him the economic impact of CMU students influences the way they advertise in particular. Students with disposable income make for an attractive audience, especially when their presence comes with the guarantee that these dollars will stay in Isabella County.
Students typically have expanded employment opportunities in the fall. When the student consumers leave in the summer, the employment roles are reduced accordingly.
This decline does not necessarily come as a detriment to the Mount Pleasant economy, as business owners have learned how to accommodate the seasonality of their consumer base to stay competitive throughout the year.
Anderson said Isabella County has had below average unemployment rates compared to other counties.
According to unemployment statistics from the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, Mount Pleasant saw its largest unemployment rates from May to August of 2013-14. Last year, unemployment ranged from 8.9 percent in July, with consistently lower rates from September to December, which came in the range of seven to six percent.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists Michigan’s overall unemployment rate of 8.25 percent from June 2013 through May 2014.
Included in the workforce are only those actively looking for a job in the last six months, which might not apply to a large group of students.However, the 20-29 age demographic accounted for around 28.72 percent of the population in Isabella County.
It can be argued that these jobs are created and cut specifically with student employees in mind, however, Anderson said he has heard anecdotally a trend of professionals taking second jobs in the service industry normally reserved for students.
Years of high or low CMU enrollment can influence this as well.
“Mount Pleasant in that nine-month cycle may be more susceptible to parts of our economy scaling back,” Anderson said. “You see people get more aggressive with marketing when spending is down and you see increased employment when that number is up.”