Editorial

Chamber should make the MSA designation its mission

February 1, 2013
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The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce is planning another of its few forays to Washington, D.C., a trip set for April to visit with legislative representatives. Lakeshore and other regional chambers should participate, too, especially given the continuing pain of the U.S. Department of Management and Budget’s Metropolitan Statistical Area designations.

The DMB split Ottawa and Muskegon counties from the Grand Rapids MSA shortly after the 2000 Census, leaving both areas of what is one economic region in the dumping ground of small statistical sub-regions called Combined Statistical Areas. Even worse, Allegan County, at one time also part of the Grand Rapids MSA, is now classified in a micropolitan area apart from the others.

The Grand Rapids-Wyoming MSA includes the principal cities of Grand Rapids and Wyoming, and Barry, Ionia, Kent and Newaygo counties.

The statistical calculation or designation has many, varied negative impacts on the region. Economic development agencies have supported reclassification to more accurately reflect the size of the area’s labor market, strength of the supplier base, depth of the service sector and purchasing power of residents. Businesses looking to expand in certain regions of the country use the MSA to define a market area and make comparisons.

One of the most frustrating examples is defined by the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, which has continuing headaches (or complete dismissals) from major airlines, particularly the discount airlines, which use the MSA data to define service areas, and continue to refuse GFIA.

“It’s absolutely a problem,” said Tim Mroz, vice president of The Right Place Inc. “It’s a huge disadvantage. We keep bumping against the bureaucrats in the bowels of the bureau, and nothing changes.”

Area governments in the region made concerted efforts to make the point prior to the 2010 Census, which famously showed the growth of this region and the decline in the Detroit area. Business leaders formed One Kent Coalition and framed its mission to merge the city of Grand Rapids and the county of Kent into one governmental agency; its impetus was creating a larger statistical area with a population of more than 1 million.

The realignment impacts federal statistical agencies, regulatory agencies, Medicare and many of the government funding programs that are based on MSA data. It affects Medicare payment rates.

MSAs also are used to allocate funds in some federal community development programs and in calculations for federal employee locality pay, among other uses.

The chamber trip to Washington should include the GFIA director and the business leaders long-engaged in its efforts, as well as regional government leaders. The Upjohn Institute for Employment Research reports are integral to the mission, and it should be the chamber’s mission.

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