Economic Development and Lakeshore

Business report reveals lakeshore industry strengths

Local businesses are outperforming their national counterparts.

May 9, 2014
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(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Businesses along the lakeshore are outpacing comparable companies in the Midwest and the nation in manufacturing and new product development.

Lakeshore Advantage, a nonprofit organization fostering economic growth in West Michigan, released the Spring 2014 Business Intelligence Report last month, highlighting economic strengths in the area and informing the community about existing businesses.

The Business Intelligence Report is conducted annually by the Lakeshore Advantage team, based on more than 200 comprehensive interviews with top chief executive officers, managers and business leaders in Ottawa County. Gathering data during the January-December 2013 time period, Lakeshore Advantage now is able to inform the community of local business strengths and prepare for future industry needs.

According to the report, Ottawa County companies continued to lead the Midwest region and the nation in manufacturing and new product development during 2013. The survey outlined investment in research and development, leveraging new products, services and capabilities, and sales growth as contributing factors.

Bruce Adair, interim president of Lakeshore Advantage, said the organization is excited by what businesses in the region are doing, adding that research and development is critically important for the highly concentrated manufacturing region.

“Ultimately, I think this is a reflection of the very high-quality businesses that we have in the region. They continue to invest in R&D even in the very tough times. Even in the recession, they didn’t give up. They were ready to go with new products or services, and I think that has been a huge benefit,” said Adair.

While 18 percent of lakeshore companies invested more than 6 percent of company sales in R&D, only 12 percent of companies nationwide and 11 percent of those in the Midwest region invested more than 6 percent. According to the report, 16 percent of Midwest companies are investing between 3 and 6 percent of company sales in R&D, while 29 percent of lakeshore companies are spending a comparable amount.

Lakeshore companies also were found to outpace companies in the Midwest and the nation in introducing new products, services or capabilities. According to the report, 93 percent of Ottawa County companies surveyed reported new product launches in the past five years. Adair said the lakeshore community also produces a significant number of patents.

With the amount of investment and new product launches, 77 percent of Ottawa County businesses reported an increase in sales for 2013, while only 7 percent experienced a decrease. For comparable businesses in the Midwest region, the study noted 51 percent of companies had an increase in sales, while 18 percent reported a decrease.

The report also surveyed business leaders in terms of plans for expansion and employment opportunities. A majority of businesses surveyed anticipate introducing new products in the next two years, 73 percent expect to expand, and companies expect 2,400 new jobs in the next three years. According to the report, the estimated total expansion of lakeshore businesses is more than $9 million, and 72 percent of the expansion incorporates equipment and technology.

The Business Intelligence Report highlighted three approaches to meeting local industry needs while taking into account national economic concerns: marketing the community as a place to live, work, learn and play; leveraging area resources to foster innovation; and assisting with local growth projects.

“Lakeshore companies are on a significant growth trajectory,” said Adair in a written statement. “As a community, focusing efforts on developing, attracting and retaining the talent companies need will be a critical factor to future local economic prosperity. There is already positive momentum with companies offering education reimbursement programs and new initiatives in the K-12 system.”

According to Adair, talent incorporates the need for skilled workers from the advanced manufacturing floor all the way up to engineering and design.

One of the initiatives developed in an effort to be proactive for future industry needs is Living on the Lakeshore, a collaborative effort by Lakeshore Advantage and the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce. As a marketing tool, Living on the Lakeshore showcases West Michigan as a place to live and work. It incorporates community information, employment opportunities, cost of living index, education, entertainment options and recreational activities.

The Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit organization funded by member investment and programming, and represents more than 1,300 businesses. The chamber provides networking opportunities, events, education, and leadership development programs for business members in the community.

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