Dim Views Brightened By Potential

December 17, 2007
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West Michigan continues to fare better in job creation performance, a factor borne out in a job study conducted by the Michigan Department of Economic Growth.

The jobs report (see story, page B5) details the fact that businesses in the five-county West Michigan region added 8,100 private payroll jobs in the last year. In contrast, the rest of the state lost private-sector jobs in 2006. The DLEG report predicts that job growth will be higher in West Michigan through 2014 than throughout the rest of the state. West Michigan’s rate of job growth, projected to be 11.4 percent (7.9 percent statewide) during that time, is unlikely to keep pace with the nationwide projections of 14.1 percent job growth through 2014.

In an economic outlook update presented last week, George Erickcek of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research (see story, page 1) sees positive employment growth in the greater Grand Rapids economy, particularly through health care services, including hospitals, nursing homes and outpatient care facilities.

Erickcek’s comments also fall in agreement with trends from 2004 to 2006 that are depicted in the state DLEG study showing that manufacturing remains the core group with industries having a higher share of the jobs in the region than found nationally. However, elements of that sector that are shown in another grouping of “declining” job creators include such anticipated suspects as nonmetallic mineral product manufacturing, heavy and civil engineering construction, paper manufacturing, transportation equipment manufacturing and machinery manufacturing.

The faster than average job “growth” group points to what has been the stalwart economic girders of the region’s economy in the past several years, with an emphasis on health-care-related occupations. Those roles also are prominent in the “developing” group heading into the future, and are joined by computer and electronic product manufacturing as a continuing wave to come.

A troubling aspect of the report is the declining weekly wage for workers in West Michigan, a drop that exceeds the decrease in both the state and national average. Add the fact of the generally difficult labor market in the state, along with the accelerated exit from Michigan of young people entering the professional job market, and conditions are ripe for further decline.

As Erickcek indicated to his Grand Rapids audience last week, regions that generate new jobs with new products, processes and new markets will be the economic leaders. It has already been shown that this area’s advantage in manufacturing know-how can be leveraged for those new processes and the manufacture of new products, such as medical devices.   

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