Editorial

Lack of skilled workers will hamstring economy

January 27, 2017
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Construction season in Grand Rapids must move “just in time” in less than 30 days, but there are not enough skilled construction workers in the field with iPads and instruction. The tech sector is preparing for a growth spurt with Switch in Gaines Township but still is looking for employees with skill sets. The real estate reports of demand for construction in all sectors — industrial, commercial, office and residential — show a potential boom in Grand Rapids. But reports in Grand Rapids Business Journal show converging issues that portend a stymied economy.

Grand Valley State University economist Paul Isely and a panel of Colliers International West Michigan real estate professionals noted during the Commercial Real Estate Forecast growing national interest in the Grand Rapids market as a city in which to build. Isely noted the GR area is in the mist of change, making a one-time blue-collar market switch to technology and other advancing industries.

A report from the construction industry noted half of the companies — across Michigan — are having difficulty filling salaried and trade positions, and 52 percent predicted it will continue to be difficult throughout 2017.

Continued reporting on the manufacturing sector includes the report on Middleville Tool & Die, where expansion is a direct result of automated robotic weld cells. Jeff Cope, vice president at Middleville, told the Business Journal the biggest challenge it faces is finding the employees it needs to keep up with its growing business. President and CEO Bill Blanton agreed: “The value-add content drives the growth and employees you need.” Cope added in the report, “But it also creates challenge, too, with the biggest challenge being the skills gap. What the president is doing is fantastic, but he has to think about, if those jobs are staying or being created, how are we going to scale that as far as developing the technical expertise to do those jobs? That’s the other piece of it.”

Isely, in his regional economic overview, said Grand Rapids’ growth should continue, but somewhat slower than the previous year, which also slowed from 2015. Isely also noted, “Employment growth will slow to about 2 percent growth from running at 3, 4, 5 percent during the last few years.

“Sales growth will improve to about 3 percent, but business leaders said, while they see sales growth going up this year, they will need fewer workers to handle it.”

New jobs are being created, but lack of skilled, trained workers in the region will stymie positive impact.

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