Census numbers boost region
Growing population also is attracting more businesses to West Michigan.
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Kent County’s population grew by nearly 6,500 people in one year, according to newly released U.S. Census Bureau numbers.
From 2016 to 2017, the county’s population grew 1 percent to 648,594 people.
Comparing numbers of people alone, Kent County saw the highest number of people joining the population during that year, but other counties in the region had higher rates of growth.
Ottawa County’s population grew 1.46 percent to 286,383. Muskegon County’s population grew 1.64 percent to 173,693. Allegan County’s population grew 7.78 percent to 116,447. Kalamazoo County’s population grew 5.09 percent to 262,985 people.
From 2010, Kent County saw a 7.6 percent increase of 45,972 people. Ottawa experienced an 8.6 percent increase of 22,582 residents, Muskegon added 0.9 percent growth with 1,505 people, Allegan grew by 4.5 percent with 5,039 residents and Kalamazoo tallied a 5.1 percent jump by adding another 12,654 residents.
Paul Isely, an economist at the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University, said the area is attractive to millennials, and there are now more people between ages 25 and 35 than over age 65, which is unusual for Michigan.
While he mentioned a “sense of place” — dynamic downtowns, access to nature — he said there is an “underlying push on jobs” that has brought people to the area.
He called the unemployment rate “extremely low,” including mostly people who are just in between jobs for a short time, not a pool of workers looking for work.
“We’re essentially out of workers in Michigan,” he said.
As companies in the area continue to grow, he said they either need to invest in new technology, which is expensive, or they have to hire more people, so that’s where the push comes in.
Over the last year, he said Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties have added about 11,000 jobs.
He said more than half the people that moved into the region during the latest year reported coming from outside the area.
“The fact we were able to grow last year is solely a result of that population growth,” he said.
Without the population growth, he said companies would have to raise wages, which would lessen the number of new companies that want to move into the area.
“We’re finally sucking back some of the people that left in the early 2000s when things weren’t so great in Michigan,” Isely said.
But with this growing population comes a shrinking housing market.
“So many millennials in Kent County are reaching that point in their lives where they want housing, and that single-family housing just isn’t available,” he said.
That’s because the profit for building new single-family homes isn’t as high as building multifamily units, he said.
“That’s probably going to be one of the strongest hindrances to economic growth here,” he said.
In some “desirable” ZIP codes, he said prices per square foot are “big city numbers,” which will not be sustainable for long, but it means there still is room for builders to build.
From a commercial real estate perspective, Grand Rapids is a hot market, said Jeff Hainer, senior research analyst for Colliers International West Michigan.
That’s partially because of the population, but he said many companies also are sure to look at psychographics — why people shop at their stores.
One company Colliers works with puts up a new store for every 30,000 people added, he said, though that’s not typical for every retailer.
There’s no “magic number” to what makes companies want to move to an area, and every company has different practices surrounding that, he said.
What’s most important is “location, location, location,” Hainer said, and most of those spots are taken.
But, he added companies certainly would not be in a hurry to move in if population growth were going in the opposite direction.
He said many national companies are taking note of Grand Rapids, while historically they would have been more likely to open stores on the east side of the state.
“When they arrive here and come downtown and experience what Grand Rapids feels like … almost always, they’re blown away,” Hainer said.
“Companies are usually pretty impressed and all the more eager to be here.”