Recovery for this region will be built on manufacturing

February 15, 2013
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President Barack Obama last week re-emphasized his administration’s desire to continue to seed the industry sectors it believes will help power full Great Recession recovery and economic growth. Meanwhile, in the real world, business owners continue to build and invest their own money in that economic future even while jumping the hurdles of increased costs mandated by the federal government.

The Business Journal Focus section this week gives analysis to some significant new milestones that bode well for 2013 and beyond. Still, recovery for this region will be built on manufacturing, though development efforts for a decade have focused on diversifying the region’s job sources. Business owners, however, are the likely sources of such diversification, and that, too, is evident here.

The most recent statistical profile by The Right Place Inc. regional economic development agency shows 15 percent of all jobs in the region are related to manufacturing, the “heart” of West Michigan’s economy, as compared to all other regions in the U.S. Clusters within manufacturing show this region is No. 6 in automotive manufacturing; No. 8 in biopharmaceutical manufacturing, No. 9 in metal manufacturing and No. 12 in plastics.

This is also a “design-centric” region, named on “top lists” for its entrepreneurial efforts and successes. The success of that combination is modeled by HexArmor (see story on page 14) and by Cascade Engineering, which the Grand Rapids New Car Dealers Association honored with its 2013 Celebration of Innovation: Automotive Supplier of the Year award, presented during the Michigan International Auto Show. Cascade was cited for its environmental efforts in engineering and manufacturing parts made of completely recyclable plastic and resulting in lighter automotive parts that reduce overall vehicle weight and increase fuel efficiency,.

The Business Journal also notes the start-up efforts of LG Chem. It will be a significant contributor to the invention efforts in this region as well as next-generation automotive industry manufacturing. The Business Journal reported Feb. 14 on an update of the company’s progress. Lakeshore Advantage President Randy Thelen also told the Business Journal, “The market hasn’t developed as fast as anybody would have liked so they’re wrestling with that, but clearly they are proceeding in that direction.” Thelen emphasized the slow recovery and new product investment has been to no one’s liking but “their intention is to produce. … A company doesn’t keep 200 people employed with the expectation of not producing those lines.” He noted that the Department of Energy report released last week is a look back, not forward, “and the company is pushing ahead.”

In 2008, the Business Journal reported U.S. manufacturing technology was dramatically weaker, and the world knows the statistics went from bad to unimagined by 2009.

The recovery is being led by the ingenuity of leaders in the manufacturing sector, here and in Detroit. That’s what President Obama should have said last week.

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