Muskegon Forecast Looks Bullish

February 2, 2004
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MUSKEGON — An employment outlook for Muskegon County paints one of the brightest pictures for job growth anywhere in western Michigan, with increases forecast for both the manufacturing and service sectors.

Economist George Erickcek of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo sees 2004 as a turnaround year for Muskegon County, as economic growth finally leads to solid job growth.

“The talk around the table is a lot more positive than the last few years,” Erickcek said during his recent presentation to a breakfast gathering hosted by the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce. His annual forecast offered a “very positive” outlook for local employment.

Erickcek forecasts total employment growth of 0.9 percent for Muskegon County this year and 1.6 percent in 2005, with overall job growth stemmed somewhat by projected losses in government employment related to the state’s fiscal crisis.

His outlook sees a 1.1 percent gain in goods-producing employment in 2004 and a 1.6 percent increase in 2005. Service-sector employment is forecast to grow 1.5 percent this year and 1.9 percent next year.

The Muskegon County outlook for 2004 exceeds what Erickcek foresees for West Michigan as a whole, with a 0.5 percent overall employment gain forecast in the Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland region, a 0.6 percent decline in the region’s manufacturing employment, and 1.2 percent rise in service-sector jobs.

“In short, we are bullish on Muskegon,” Erickcek said.

On the downside, Erickcek sees government employment in Muskegon County falling 2.3 percent this year, then rebounding a modest 0.2 percent gain in 2005.

The relatively positive overall forecast for Muskegon County, which has the highest unemployment rate in the region — at 9 percent toward the end of 2003 — comes after employment fell sharply from about 81,000 in 1999 to a little more than 75,000 in 2002, before beginning a rebound last year to about 76,000.

While generally upbeat in his Muskegon County outlook, Erickcek overall worries about some of the trends he sees in the general economy. Increasing productivity is stemming job growth in the short term, the state’s financial problems hurt employment in that sector, and manufacturing job losses to globalization will accelerate, he fears.

Perhaps most worrisome is that many of the new jobs employers are creating and will create in the future are in different sectors than where they were lost. Rather than an economic recovery, Erickcek said, the United States is in an economic restructuring with growing emphasis on the service sector and a declining manufacturing base that’s fallen sharply since the late 1990s to nearly the level of 1950.

The lack of sustained job growth in the current economic recovery “is more than a very slow recovery,” he said. “What we’re talking about, I fear, is a restructuring in our economy, and that means something.”

The fundamental change, he said, gives heightened importance for strong public support for education and work force development to provide job training and re-training for workers forced to transition.

“We can’t give up on education, we can’t give up on job training,” Erickcek said. “This is a structural shift and a lot of good workers will need job training.”           

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