Friday, May 15, 2015

Kent County tops list for most job gains in the state

Recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data paints a rosier picture of the current Grand Rapids economy, certainly one that is recovering from its low point during the Great Recession. The real estate market has bounced backbusinesses are sellingunemployment is down statewide, but particularly in West Michigan. Approximately half of the almost 156,000 jobs the state lost during the last downturn have returned, but the Grand Rapids area has claimed a much larger percentage of that number than other counties.

Of the top 10 counties in Michigan with the largest job growth, Kent County and Ottawa County have added more jobs than the next 8 counties combined. Since 2005, approximately 54,000 jobs have been added - 24,000 of them just within the first three quarters of 2014. Southeast Michigan, the area of the state with the strongest economic performance for decades has been slow to regain jobs partly because the automotive industry is still considerably weakened, and so many businesses there were directly related to car manufacturing.

In West Michigan, manufacturing is coming back stronger because of its greater diversification and more adaptable population. If the strong union climate in the Detroit Metro Area is a disincentive to would be employers, West Michigan, by contrast, looks appealing. The furniture sector is back on track, and a number of manufacturing companies, including Dicastal North America and Plasan Carbon Composites, have announced plans to relocate to West Michigan. Grand Rapids also has strong healthcare, research, and education sectors as well as many opportunities in agribusiness.

Unfortunately, as with many of the jobs created after the recession, current wages do not match those of the jobs lost. Union jobs left, and part-time or lower wage jobs have replaced them. And despite the economic wounds inflicted on Southeast Michigan, the economy of just Oakland County is still three times as large as Kent County’s, and wages there are still higher.
Additionally, while jobs are coming back to the area, in manufacturing and other high tech fields, economists are worried that the lack of skilled workers will leave many positions unfilled and will cost industries and the economy in terms of unrealized growth and profit. This is hardly a local problem. Young people today are overlooking manufacturing as a potential employer and failing to pursue training in S.T.E.M. fields where many of the most lucrative positions will be.

Still, both industry and the State of Michigan have been motivated lately to create incentives to lure knowledge workers here, and the growth and diversification of the economy can only be seen as very positive developments for the people living here who wish to stay here and prosper.