Michigan is a state of many lakes and many nicknames. One of them, fittingly, is The Great Lake State, or a variation: The Great Lakes State. Both versions are accurate, as there are more than 11,000 inland lakes in the state. The Michigan Historical Center claims you never need travel more than six miles to reach an inland lake or more than 85 miles to get to one of the four Great Lakes that border the state – Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Erie.
Over 40% of Michigan's surface area is water (putting it second only to Alaska), and it has a freshwater shoreline of 3,177 miles, the longest in the U.S. Needless to say, the state enjoys a robust recreational industry with over 900,000 registered pleasure boats, putting it in the top 5 in the nation for boating. No wonder, then, that there are other water-related nicknames, including Water Wonderland, Water-Winter Wonderland and Lady of the Lake.
But that’s not all. Michigan is also known at The Wolverine State, and it is often assumed that this nickname came about because a large number of these animals once lived in the area. In fact, wolverines were very rare in Michigan. Another theory purports that during a border dispute with Ohio, Michigan residents were said to be “as vicious as wolverines.”
The 11th largest state in terms of total area (yet only 22nd for land area due to all those lakes), Michigan is the only state divided into two peninsulas. The Upper Peninsula, wilder and more sparsely populated, is referred to as the U.P., and people who live there are called Yoopers. The more urbanized Lower Peninsula is known as The Mitten because of its shape. If you ask Lower Peninsula residents where they live, they may point to a spot on their hands that matches the location of their homes on The Mitten.
The two peninsulas are separated by the Strait of Mackinac (pronounced “MACK-eh-NAW”), a channel which links Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. In 1957, the Mackinac Bridge, the fifth-longest suspension bridge in the world, was built to connect the peninsulas and boost the economy of the Upper Peninsula. Yet another nickname emerged as a result. People who live on the Lower Peninsula became known as Trolls because they live “under the bridge.”
Michigan’s economy has long been intertwined with the U.S. automotive industry, giving rise to still another nickname, The Auto State. Although the industry has struggled and restructured in recent decades, its methods of mass production were at the heart of the industrial revolution. Today, the “Big Three” automakers – General Motors (GM), Ford and Chrysler (the latter now owned by Fiat) – are alive and well the Detroit metro area, aka Motor City. Both GM and Chrysler successfully emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009 thanks to a government bailout program, thus preventing the collapse of the industry during the Great Recession. Even better, the industry has innovated and added 500,000 new jobs between 2010 and 2015, showing that it is far from dead.
From these iconic automakers to manufacturers of machinery, tools, airplane parts, chemicals and furniture, the Michigan economy still relies heavily on advanced manufacturing, which accounts for 19% of the state’s economic output (or roughly $82 billion in 2013) and employs over 13% of the workforce. In 2014, 574,500 people were employed in manufacturing jobs, with an average annual compensation of $74,907 in 2013. Ready for the next nickname? The city of Battle Creek is known as The World's Cereal Bowl, thanks to William K. Kellogg's accidental creation of Corn Flakes in 1906. Since then, the city has produced more cereals than any other in the world.
Finally, Michigan has a growing biotechnology and startup sector, and its outstanding research universities – the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State - are essential to this effort. Employers are drawn to the state's skilled workforce as well as recent changes designed to boost the business climate, including a repeal of the Michigan Business Tax, a phasing out of the personal property tax on business and the 2013 switch to become a Right to Work state. As a result, Michigan jumped 12 spots (the largest increase of any state) from #42 to #30 in Forbes’ 2015 list of the “Best States for Business and Careers.”
Michigan's population of over 9.9 million makes it the 10th largest state in the U.S. More than 40% of residents live in the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn metro area, the 14th largest in the country. Roughly 79% of Michiganders are white, 14% are black, 4% are Hispanic and 2% are Asian. In addition, 6% of the population is foreign-born, thanks in part to the fact that the Detroit metro area has the largest Arab community of any U.S. metropolis as well as the second-largest Chaldean (Assyrian Christian descent) community.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the Detroit suburb of Dearborn – home of Ford – has the biggest concentration of Arab-Americans at 40%. This is no coincidence as Michigan Radio reports that Henry Ford was known to be more willing to hire Arabs and blacks at his plants than other employers, thus drawing early Arab immigrants to the area to seek work. From there, many families were able to serve as sponsors for relatives and refugees from their home countries, including Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Syria and Yemen.
Thanks to the deep impacts of the Great Recession and the overall decline in American manufacturing, Michigan real estate depreciated statewide more than 11% between 2006 and 2016. However, things have started to turn around as buyers have begun taking advantage of the bargain prices for homes and buildings. Between 2013 and 2015, real estate appreciation was over 14%, one of the higher rates in the country. As of early 2016, the median home value in Michigan was $141,338 – roughly $42,000 less than the national average – while the median rental price was $907.