Economic Development, Human Resources, and Lakeshore

Modest employment growth expected for Muskegon County

Quarterly report indicates lakeshore region is moving in the right direction.

August 14, 2015
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Based on growth during the first part of the year, Muskegon County’s employment rate is expected to remain positive.

Muskegon Area First, a countywide economic development corporation, recently released its July Economic Development Update. One of the highlights showed the county experienced modest employment growth across multiple industries during the first half of the year, with more than 1,500 jobs added since the second quarter ended 2014.

The update is an online quarterly publication providing the Muskegon County community with a snapshot of the regional economy; it included highlights from the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research’s “Mid-Year Outlook for Muskegon” report, as well as a number of local economic indicators.

Ed Garner, president and CEO of Muskegon Area First, said the report tracks a couple of leading and lagging indicators for the county, as well as regional and national indices.

“We are trying to get a snapshot of the movement of which way our economy is headed,” said Garner.

“The trend line — and that is what we are trying to track — looks positive for Muskegon, the region and the state, as the numbers kind of reflect.”

Conducted by Brian Pittelko from the W.E. Upjohn Institute, the report indicated employers in Muskegon County added more than 1,500 jobs from the second quarter of 2014 through the second quarter 2015, with leading growing industries including manufacturing; retail; leisure and hospitality; trade, transportation and utilities; and education and health services.

“That growth occurred in several major sectors, which really represent our pillars of our economic base here in Muskegon County very well,” said Garner.

“The manufacturing sector really helps spur a lot of that other growth because of what they call the ‘multiplier effect’ or ‘spin-off effect.’ The manufacturing environment here creates jobs and more money to spend on the other types of goods and services.”

At the state level, the employment growth forecast indicates an addition of roughly 50,250 jobs in 2015 and more than 52,000 jobs in 2016, according to the report.

From second quarter 2014 to second quarter 2015, employers have added nearly 100,000 jobs statewide.

While the employment growth forecast remains positive in Muskegon, the report indicates manufacturing employment growth has slowed for the county after recovering swiftly from the recession, and services employment has not grown as fast as the national trend.

In comparison to nine similarly sized metro areas — within 16 percent of Muskegon County’s population — Muskegon’s average unemployment rate of 5.9 percent from January to May 2015 is slightly above the average of 5.5 percent. Comparison cities include Monroe, Jackson, Benton Harbor and Saginaw in Michigan, plus Elkhart, Ind., and Racine, Wis.

On a monthly basis, Muskegon County’s unemployment rate increased from 5.1 percent in April 2015 to 6.1 percent in June 2015, according to the Economic Development Update.

The change in total employment in Muskegon from January to June 2014 to the same period in 2015 was also slightly above average: 2.5 percent in comparison to an average of 1.8 percent. Outliers included Racine, with a negative 1.1 percent change, and Janesville, Wis., with a 4.3 percent growth in total employment.

While service employment was above average at 3.1 percent in comparison to roughly 2.3 percent for the other nine metropolitan areas, manufacturing employment in Muskegon was slightly below average, at 2.6 percent in comparison to an average of 3.3 percent.

“Overall, when you look at the Upjohn report, it said they are predicting modest growth for us throughout the remaining year,” said Garner. “Their prediction improved slightly from the beginning of the year, but what we are still seeing is strong activity among our companies, particularly among our manufacturing sectors.”

The W.E. Upjohn Institute revised its original forecast for Muskegon County’s employment change from 1.4 percent to 1.5 percent based on the job growth in the region during the first half of the year.

“I think companies are still seeing opportunities out there. More business is being done with an existing base of companies they work with rather than with new opportunities,” said Garner.

“We have a kayak manufacturer, and they are going strong right now just because of the demand for the products and they have come up with new products, as well. So through innovation we are still seeing good growth.”

Other economic indicators included in the report are labor market workforce levels, the unemployment rate for the county, new businesses registered and the amount of government contracts awarded.

While the labor market workforce level was down in June 2015 at 78,387 from roughly 78,701 in May 2015 and nearly 78,481 in June 2014, the number is an increase from 77,112 in April 2015.

During the second quarter of 2015, roughly 329 companies advertised more than 1,800 jobs online in Muskegon County, an increase from 209 companies posting approximately 1,200 jobs online during the first quarter 2015, according to the update.

The top companies posting employment opportunities online were Trinity Health, Chassix, Muskegon County, Alcoa Howmet, Redi Rental, MOKA, HCR ManorCare, Plumb’s Inc., Port City Group, L&L Bull Farm and Greenhouse.

“Everybody we are visiting is going at a fairly good pace right now. Everybody is still looking for qualified people to work in the various industries, and that is more of a bottleneck to growth than business opportunities,” said Garner. “The biggest challenge you are going to hear over and over again is the talent workforce arena.”

Although companies in the Muskegon County area may be experiencing a labor shortage, Garner said one positive result of that is a slight wage rate increase due to the supply and demand issue.

The report also indicated more than 40 new businesses were registered in Muskegon County for the month of June, a decline from roughly 50 new businesses in May and 58 in April.

In terms of government contracts awarded, the West Michigan region received more than $56.7 million.

“We are moving pretty good right now and we want to continue the trend and continue to help people find employment opportunities here within the county,” said Garner. “Our goal is to add several additional indicators as time goes on to get an even better view of the direction we are headed and, hopefully, people can use it as a tool for making decisions in terms of things they want to possibly invest in or locate here.”

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