Ottawa is right to reconsider MSA region

May 17, 2009
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The Ottawa County planning commission has reopened the lakeshore debate as to the benefit of combining its Metropolitan Statistical Area with Kent County, from which it split off about six years ago. It is a petition to the federal Office of Management and Budget that should be encouraged as the Ottawa County Commission considers the recommendation, and time is short to do so as the 2010 U.S. Census looms.

Ottawa County was a part of the Grand Rapids MSA, which included Muskegon and Allegan counties, as the Census was taken in 2000. Its departure from that link created the Grand Rapids-Wyoming statistical area, and neither entity has been happy about it since OMB forced the split. In fact The Right Place President Birgit Klohs warned at the time that the split was a “big mistake.”

The MSA is primarily used by businesses as the fundamental evaluation tool in considering a move into any area with products, services, business expansions or relocations. It is a primary economic development tool, and one that attracts such business decisions based on statistically significant population base of one million (though MSAs are calculated by geographic regions of 50,000 population and up). It has been a decisive factor especially for national retailers and many Fortune 500 companies that have often declined representation in this region based on that factor alone.

Reunification can strengthen that statistical base as the West Michigan region battles to remain as a geographic area significantly above the Michigan statistical averages. The MSAs are regarded for education levels, household incomes and surrounding education communities among other standards. Ottawa County is finding it increasingly difficult to stand out to such business transfers in this economic downturn. Though it ranks higher than the Grand Rapids MSA in educational attainment and lower in crime, it does not have the population base in the current MSA to even present those facts.

The work of The Right Place with the Lakeshore Advantage economic development group is but one example of the Grand Rapids- lakeshore partnerships. So, too, has there been advantage to the Grand Rapids, Holland, Grand Haven and Muskegon chambers of commerce alliance. The West Michigan Strategic Alliance has been built on and provided further stimulus among governmental units for such partnerships with its research of how the geographic region interacts.

The Lakeshore Advantage economic development Web site notes demographics which include Grand Rapids, and touts “more than 15 colleges and universities within an hour drive” of its Zeeland location.

The Grand Rapids-Wyoming MSA is listed by the Census Bureau as 776,833. The Ottawa County’s MSA population is estimated at 260,364.

This is not a controversial or tough decision. It’s the right thing to do especially as current economic need is so critical.

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