Health care pushes area job market above national average
Looking at the most recent federal jobs report, West Michigan continues to outpace the national average and the rest of the state in every aspect of the economy, according the regional economic development nonprofit, The Right Place Inc.
The region’s health care industry continues to advance the economy and do well, including Spectrum Health, Saint Mary’s and medical device manufacturing, which are presenting significant job opportunities, according to Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing and communications for The Right Place.
“West Michigan has continued to fare better economically in comparison to the state of Michigan and the national rate in unemployment, job growth and in overall labor force,” Mroz said. “We’ve continued to beat both of those. Although everyone is challenged right now, the economy is still struggling to really catch that next gear, but our region still has a lot of opportunity in several industry sectors.”
Mroz addressed the region’s job market following the release of the September jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report showed that the unemployment rate decreased to 7.8 percent during the month, a 0.3 percent change. The report also noted that the number of unemployed workers decreased by 456,000, to 12.1 million.
The federal jobs report indicated that employment increased in health care, transportation and warehousing, while remaining mostly the same in other industries.
Spectrum Health is indicative of a major health care employer in the region that continues to hire.
Roger Jansen, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Spectrum Health, noted that Spectrum did increase hiring slightly in September. The hospital has been hiring regularly during the past 18 months, so he cautions that the numbers are relative. The hospital plans to continue to do plenty of active hiring for both clinical and non-clinical positions in the coming months and will soon employ more than 19,000 people.
“We are outpacing other parts of the country significantly,” Jansen said.
Spectrum’s biggest hiring challenge comes from the large amount of applications it gets each year, more than 260,000. Applicants apply from all over the globe, so the hospital system is challenged with finding the best fit out of a tremendous pool of job seekers.
Another industry where West Michigan seems to be outpacing the national average is manufacturing.
“Orders continue to pick up,” Mroz said. “Manufacturers are continuing to add both investment and head count. It’s all in an effort to keep up with increasing demand from their customers.”
Mroz noted that while there are not 200 or 300 jobs available like there might have been 10 to 15 years ago, there are typically six or seven jobs available at any given manufacturer. He said the biggest challenge in hiring for these open positions is that they tend to be very specific, requiring very specific training or skill sets from workers.
Kim Fettig, owner and chief customer satisfaction officer at human resources firm Fettig, agrees. Fettig has seen a 20 percent increase in orders since August.
“Grand Rapids and West Michigan have been quite robust for some time now in the desire to fill open positions,” Fettig said. “The challenge has been in finding the right person for the position, either from a skills-set match or the right work ethic.”
Mroz expects that West Michigan will continue to see positive progress in employment and mentioned that The Right Place will be making an announcement soon regarding new projects in the region.
He also mentioned that it is in the region’s best interest that the rest of the state’s economy improves.
“The Right Place has said that from the beginning — when the discussions of East and West started to happen — as Detroit goes, so goes the state,” Mroz said. “It is in Grand Rapids’ best interest that Detroit succeeds. It’s in Traverse City’s best interest that Detroit succeeds.
“Detroit is still a major footprint in our state, especially when you talk about manufacturing and you talk about the automotive industry,” he said. “There are many West Michigan manufacturers that are supplying the automakers in Detroit. As Detroit continues to heal and gain traction, that does nothing but help West Michigan and our economy.”