Editorial

Education levels, pay rates haunt region’s future

January 29, 2016
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Grand Rapids Business Journal has called attention to incongruities in the Greater Grand Rapids market that are likely to create issues in the near future. The 16th annual Economic and Commercial Real Estate Forecast hosted by the Seidman College of Business and Colliers International|West Michigan underscored those issues in the study presented.

The Business Journal has expressed repeated concern in regard to area education levels — those holding a bachelor’s degree or more — and falling state education investment by legislators.

Paul Isely, associate dean of Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business, noted during the forecast report that, while more jobs were added in the past year, few of them were filled with homegrown talent.

Isely said one the region’s biggest issues will be the low levels of regional educational attainment and the low unemployment levels, making recruitment essential — and businesses recruiting employees will have stiff competition.

The Business Journal also has noted the impact of the Switch SuperNAP center is significant for the creation of jobs, the education level of those employed and the increase in regional earnings, but current reports note many of those employees will be flown back and forth from the West Coast to fill those positions, negating the economic impact of those living and working in the region.

The Colliers report provides evidence for continued strength in manufacturing in West Michigan, but talent attraction and wages will be factors in the region’s ability to attain that growth.

A Forbes/Payscale study last month placed Grand Rapids among the worst regions for worker compensation among the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S., and like every other metropolitan community in the country, pay rates are flat, not up, for employees who hold at least a bachelor’s degree.

The compensation report measured not just early career pay but mid-career and median pay for those holding at least a bachelor’s degree. Add to that dismal (though likely unsurprising) report the fact that the Grand Rapids region continues to show much lower education rates than other regions, even in comparison to other Michigan cities like Detroit and Ann Arbor.

The Colliers report cautions growth could be stifled by the area’s comparatively low wages, with workers in the Grand Rapids-Wyoming metro area among the bottom 10 wage earners in the nation.

These issues loom large for the Greater Grand Rapids business community in the immediate future and will continue to have impact over the next decade.

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