Economic Development and Real Estate

Developers see census numbers as validation

April 1, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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With so much development and positive branding coming from Grand Rapidians, the recent U.S. Census Bureau numbers brought a sigh of relief.

Near the end of March, the Census Bureau reported the Grand Rapids metropolitan statistical area — Barry, Kent, Montcalm and Ottawa counties — grew nearly 1 percent from July 2014 to July 2015.

Ottawa County grew 1.21 percent with an increase of 3,357 residents. Kent County saw an increase of 6,144 residents, or nearly 1 percent of its estimated 630,225 residents in 2014.

Those numbers show the past several years of development in Grand Rapids are paying off, said Nick Koster, vice president of operations at CWD Real Estate Investment.

“It’s a sign that the things we’re doing are the right things,” Koster said. “It’s encouraging for those who are from and invested in Grand Rapids. It’s the fruit of a generation of labor, particularly downtown.”

At the time of the last census in 2010, Ottawa had 263,801 residents and Kent had 602,622. Now the populations sit at an estimated 279,955 and 636,369, respectively. The two counties were the fastest growing in the state.

Since 2010, the Grand Rapids MSA has seen an increase of 49,645 residents, a 5 percent growth.

Michigan’s overall increase was 0.06 percent, including a loss of 6,673 residents in Wayne County.

Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of The Right Place, agreed with Koster’s sentiments that the Grand Rapids MSA increases are representative of decades of investment into the region.

The demographic data also is a positive when it comes to attracting new business, she said.

“There are times when West Michigan is eliminated from an expansion project simply due to data analysis,” she said in a statement released when the numbers were announced. “While we continue to market the region on qualitative aspects, this will improve the quantitative measures of the region.”

The census also showed increases in jobs in several sectors in the Grand Rapids area from 2010 to 2015, including 39 percent growth in manufacturing, 27 percent in construction, 21 percent in hospitals, and 19 percent in scientific and technical services.

Together, those increases resulted in more than 35,000 jobs added to the area since 2010.

Aside from outside companies bringing jobs and opportunities to West Michigan, Koster said the uptick in residents could also bolster the investment from out-of-market investors.

For years, a large majority of investment in the city came from local residents. Recently, companies from outside Grand Rapids have come in and made improvements to the makeup of West Michigan that have helped add value to attract more even more development, Koster said.

Having outside investment helps carry some of the burden of developing a city, he said.

“It bodes well for continuing to attract investment,” he said. “It will likely lead to more attention from out-of-town investment, like Franklin Partners, and it’s good. They’re good for the market, are talented and bring high-quality products and different approaches.

“It really is a positive.”

Retail interest in the Grand Rapids MSA will continue on the same path as the past three or four years, said Earl Clements, principal at Colliers International|West Michigan. He doesn’t anticipate a slowdown in retailer interest in West Michigan, whether it’s opening additional stores or entering the market for the first time.

“It’s a combination of people who have never been here wanting to open (businesses), and people within the region seeing an opportunity and wanting to develop their business,” Clements said. “We’ll be very busy.”

Unlike southeast Michigan, Grand Rapids was not overbuilt in terms of retail real estate, Clements said. The Great Recession left large vacancy rates in the Detroit area that West Michigan was able to avoid.

Whether or not more real estate investment happens in Grand Rapids, the census data is still a boost to the confidence of the development community.

“More than anything it’s a sign that what we’re doing is working,” Koster said. “It shows more people want to live, work and be entertained in West Michigan, and the data supports all of the goals we’re looking to achieve as a community.”

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