Area Economy

As summer heats up, so does West Michigan’s economy

August 2, 2013
| By Jim Bishop |
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While West Michigan’s warm temperatures heat up Lake Michigan’s beautiful beaches, The Bank of Holland’s mid-year economic findings point to a sunny economy along the lakeshore and throughout West Michigan. The private sectors led the way, with Kent County and its neighboring counties increasing employment with nearly 4,800 new jobs. These robust employment gains were most evident in two sectors: service providers and manufacturing.

With the net employment outlook remaining unchanged from the first quarter of last year, first-time unemployment insurance claims decreased by nearly 10 percent. This indicates a reduction in layoffs. Additionally, housing starts increased by 5.7 percent.

Other indicators that I find encouraging include:

  • Total employment increased by 1 percent in six West Michigan metropolitan areas during the first quarter.
  • Employment gains were reported in all of the region’s major, private employment sectors.
  • These employment gains decreased West Michigan’s unemployment rates to 6.8 percent.
  • Economic indicators suggest that summer months will see even more West Michigan employment gains.
  • On the downside, the West Michigan construction sectors lost 500 jobs. However, overall, the economic indicators improved, suggesting that further economic growth is likely as the summer heats up.

Sunny skies for GR, Wyoming

Throughout the Grand Rapids and Wyoming area, these positive trends were very evident, boosting total employment by 1.2 percent during the first quarter. Not surprisingly, the manufacturing and private service-providing sectors reported the strongest gains. Even though the number of unemployed workers fell by only 0.6 percent, positive economic indicators improved during the quarter, correctly forecasting economic growth — and employment growth — during these warm summer months.

Of special note:

  • The number of employed residents in the four-county area increased by more than 5,000 during the quarter.
  • Nearly 5,000 people entered or re-entered the area’s work force, becoming employed or active job-seekers.
  • The large uptick in the number of employed residents and persons entering the work force resulted in the number of unemployed workers remaining the same.

Mirroring the regions’ trends, initial claims for unemployment insurance here fell by 7.3 percent, again indicating that fewer businesses are laying off workers. Housing starts also increased by nearly 25 percent.

Clear sailing for lakeshore

Ottawa County had a great first quarter with total employment increasing by nearly 1,000 jobs. These great employment gains impacted all three of the area’s major sectors: manufacturing, goods-producing and service-providing. These gains also decreased unemployment to 6.1 percent during the quarter, with the number of unemployed dropping by 2.2 percent.

Keep in mind the area’s economic indicators were mixed, so it is possible overall employment conditions could weaken as the summer closes out. In addition, housing starts were down 8.6 percent. However, during our promising first quarter:

  • The number of employed residents increased by morethan 1,100 persons, a 0.9 percent hike.
  • More than 900 individuals entered or re-entered the labor market and actively looked for work.
  • New claims for unemployment insurance were down by 10.1 percent, suggesting fewer layoffs.

Muskegon and Oceana counties also experienced positive employment growth. Here, employment increased by a healthy 1.3 percent in both counties — that’s 760 new jobs. Every employment sector experienced gains except for one: government. During this very positive first quarter:

  • The labor force grew by nearly 1,200 workers.
  • New claims for unemployment insurance decreased by 14 percent.
  • Housing starts increased slightly by 0.8 percent.

However, the area’s unemployment rate rose slightly to 8.5 percent. I believe this is due to improving employment conditions. Most likely, this uptick occurred because those finding work in the counties inspired out-of-work residents — who had not been on the unemployment rolls — to jump back into the job search, thereby raising the percentage of unemployed.

Hot, hot, hot!

Across the state, first-quarter reports showed total employment crept up by 0.6 percent, decreasing unemployment to 8.7 percent. This translates to about 25,000 new jobs and 11,000 people off state unemployment rolls. Statewide, the information, other services and government sectors were the only major sectors not participating in this trend.

Here in West Michigan, we’ve seen positive gains in all sectors — more new jobs, better employment numbers and healthier housing start numbers than we have in past years. I feel confident forecasting that this sunny, summer Michigan economy will continue. Now, that’s a breath of fresh air!

Jim Bishop is senior vice president and market manager for The Bank of Holland.

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