Regional business reports serve as a call to action

June 10, 2016
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Brian Long, director of supply management research at Grand Valley State University Seidman College of Business, has used the same adjective each month this year to describe the regional economy: flat. Long’s measures are specific to manufacturing orders and purchases, but recent and current Business Journal reporting note a similar estimation among all Michigan businesses and in the furniture industry as the annual NeoCon trade show gets underway.

The comparisons offer stark evidence of comparatively lackluster growth in the industrial sectors compared to “knowledge-based economies” elsewhere in the Midwest. Michigan statistical information indicates a shortage of 80,000 technical jobs applicants, jobs unfilled for lack of qualified applicants.

The current quarterly survey released by Business Leaders for Michigan reveals comparatively slow growth over the next six months, even while one-third of business leaders surveyed plan capital investments in Michigan and about half expect to add jobs.

In the office furniture industry, two of West Michigan’s big three are showing less production in quarterly trends surveys released by Michael A. Dunlap & Associates. Both public companies Herman Miller Inc. and then Steelcase Inc. reported greater reliance on outside suppliers and off-shore production facilities and more in-house focus on design and creative aspects of the business.

The industry is balancing workplace changes that have included more employees working from home, in shared workspaces, in smaller cubicles or “work spaces” and a move to much smaller computer devices and internet tools. Such changes also are underway at privately held Haworth Inc.

The trend report also shows that while sales have declined from a peak 15 years ago, furniture industry profits have rarely been better.

The office trends report offers another example of “creative class” impacts on the overall regional economy and precisely aligns to national trends of “knowledge-based” economies having the greatest economic growth.

Long notes a report from Markit.com opining, “For those looking for a rebound in the economy after the lackluster start of the year, the deteriorating trend in (national) manufacturing is not going to provide any comfort.” Worse, Long also notes the survey projects returning industrial inflation.

Cumulatively, the reports serve as a call to action to legislators out of step with new-economy realities and education priorities across this state.

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