Editorial

Kent County census increase signals a strong economy

March 24, 2017
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After a period of comparative decline, business exports once again are climbing, and West Michigan industries are contributing to Michigan’s increasing numbers. The impacts of such growth include not just employment levels but the diversity of products and services in the greater Grand Rapids area and contribute to Kent County’s continued population growth.

Huntington Bank Chief Investment Officer John Augustine, in an interview with the Business Journal, noted the rise of exports and advised “it is something to watch in the local market.”

“Exports have actually strengthened the last two months,” he said, “and they’re up about 7 percent year over year. We fit into that generally in small ways, a lot of components that grow into bigger things, especially in the aerospace field, we’re doing a lot.”

The Right Place Inc. regional economic development agency lists 130 international companies in West Michigan and notes, “West Michigan companies make everything from cell phone components to software.” In a recent report, Business Leaders for Michigan noted the state’s largest export is automotive related, and the rear-view mirrors and next-gen high-tech products produced by Gentex in Zeeland ranks as Michigan’s ninth-largest export.

Augustine told the Business Journal “exports” is an area of unexpected growth. He also noted West Michigan is home to “about 20 companies with more than 2,000 employees each, in the region, which not only contributes to the Grand Rapids metropolitan area’s low unemployment levels — but also its reputation. It’s an impressive list, and you don’t see that much outside of the big cities like New York and Chicago.”

The Associated Press late last week reported newly released Census numbers show communities in West Michigan once again had strong population growth. The figures released last Thursday show Kent County added 6,078 people between 2015 and 2016. Wayne County, which includes Detroit, lost 7,696 people in the same period and Washtenaw County added 3,862 people and Oakland County increased by 3,696 people. The strong economy in West Michigan was among the reasons cited for the gains.

As Augustine notes, “And now when a recession hits, we come back faster than the eastern side of the state, and our quality of life here is so off the charts that we can get young people to stay here. The city itself will be able to compete with similar-sized regional MSAs, such as Minneapolis, Louisville and Buffalo.”

The statistical information reported in the Business Journal is powerful for the entire business community; recruiters, too, will take note.

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