Transforming State's Economy Is Crucial

December 18, 2006
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W.E. Upjohn Institute on Employment Research offers a mixed bag in assessing Michigan’s economy year-to-date. The Grand Rapids-Wyoming Metropolitan Statistical Area is determined to be doing “fairly well” with gains in the health care sector, which also is driving the construction industry.

Upjohn Senior Regional Analyst George Erickcek, however, said the worst news for the state is that even as advances are made in the “knowledge-based” economy, especially in the Grand Rapids region, the education achievement level of the work force is below average. This metropolitan area trailed behind a comparison group of persons 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree or higher; Grand Rapids ranks at 28 percent, the comparison group at 33 percent.

The continued emphasis on educational attainment underscores the necessity of Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s work to measure and monitor outcomes in the region’s largest school district, and that of the community to assist in shaping a bankable work force.

Still, the knowledge based industry in this region will — must — continue to grow, and so it may be with such workers from across the country and around the world, as is evident now in the labs at the Van Andel Institute. Certainly “pockets” of an educated work force exist in Michigan and a view opposing Erickcek is offered by Google’s chief executive officer in Ann Arbor. Grady Burnett noted last week “all the bad things” lobbed during the recent gubernatorial election, and “from the outside we didn’t see any of that.” Burnett also said Google sees Michigan as a “diverse, highly educated state.”

The Grand Rapids region also ranked in statistical analysis showing the area is fourth of 118 metropolitan areas measured as a “dynamic place for business.” That, too, will assist the community in drawing the skilled work force imperative to the growth of the life sciences and technology sectors of the economy.

Expectations continue to be high for gains in the contract furniture industry, especially the forecast offered by Herman Miller, and that, too, bodes well for this region. The Employers Association found in its survey that almost 30 percent of jobs available are in the manufacturing and skilled trades.

The outlook is a “mixed bag,” but Grand Rapids Business Journal suggests such is the result of the economic transformations taking place in this region. And that’s the goal.    

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