Street Talk: Mixed messages on the economy

Natural reaction.

Rising unemployment? Check. A plethora of job openings? Check. Automobile production slowing? Check. New car sales rising? Check. The tightest housing market in years? Check. Homes being sold in the shortest amount of time in a decade or more? Check.

It’s no wonder HR departments are so worried about the mental health of their employees.

Throw in the still-heated debate over COVID-19 vaccinations (required or not?), and you’ve got a formula for most of the population not knowing which way is up.

Now, one of West Michigan’s important economic sectors is weighing in with more negative news — sort of.

Although still positive, the recovery for the West Michigan industrial economy has slowed considerably in recent weeks, according to Brian G. Long, director of supply management research in the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University.

Long said the slowdown is expected at this stage of an economic recovery because of pent-up demand.

Long said the worldwide chip shortage is hampering auto production for almost every nameplate in the world. Dealer lots are predominately empty, and Long said it may be 2022 before supply catches up with demand.

Highlights from Long’s economic report:

  • New orders, the index of business improvement, came in at +14 — typical of the recovery from most recessions once the initial pent-up demand has been satisfied.
  • The ongoing chip shortage has washed backward into the automotive supply chain, causing slowdowns or temporary stoppages in production. The production index tapered to +11.
  • Staffing continues to be a major problem for many firms, even though some have raised their starting wage and offered signing bonuses. Many economists are concerned about a wage-price spiral.
  • Despite the COVID delta variant, the JPM international survey posted at 54.1, only a little below the all-time high of 56 set in May. The supply chains of the world continue to show no sign of returning to normal.
  • The employment index remained positive at +19, but would be stronger if there were people to hire. With some of the generous unemployment benefits coming offline, there is speculation that the employment situation will improve in coming months.

The Institute for Supply Management survey is a monthly survey of business conditions that includes 45 purchasing managers in the greater Grand Rapids area and 25 in Kalamazoo. The respondents are from the region’s major industrial manufacturers, distributors and industrial service organizations. It is patterned after a nationwide survey conducted by the Institute for Supply Management. Each month, the respondents are asked to rate eight factors as “same,” “up” or “down.”

Taking their shot

The Michigan Manufacturers Association recently sent a message to President Joe Biden in regard to his proposed mandate that employers require their employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or be tested weekly. That message? Butt out.

MMA has long been a proponent of the COVID-19 vaccination and has endeavored to educate its workforce on the potential benefits of having the shot administered. Politicizing the action, however, is not on MMA’s agenda.

“While details of the President’s proposal have not been released, MMA has long fought for — and will continue to fight for — the right of employers to maintain control over decisions that impact their business,” said John J. Walsh, president and CEO of MMA. “Broad stroke employment mandates fail to recognize the unique nuances of each workplace, workforce and community. Flexibility to implement suitable workplace safety policies is critical to employee safety, talent recruitment and retention, and the ability to compete in a global economy.

Rather than having the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) impose workplace safety rules regarding the vaccination, Walsh argued individual programs, such as incentives, should be the way to go.

“MMA has also had a strong position of support for vaccination as the best method to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Voluntary incentive programs to promote vaccination make sense,” he said. “However, government mandates that place enormous costs and logistical burdens on employers while they struggle with fragile supply chains and talent shortages could be devastating to our burgeoning economic recovery. In short, government using employers as a pawn is an improper exercise of authority. Providing incentives is the logical and most successful approach to dealing with the pandemic.”

Bug out

Residents are asking the city of Grand Rapids to follow through on its pesticide-free parks commitment.

Two hundred individuals and counting have signed a petition created by a Grand Rapids resident to ask the city to recommit to natural lawn care at its parks.

The city announced in April 2021 it would stop using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers at the Sixth Street and Canal parks to protect the Grand River. In August, the city reversed the decision.

Grand Rapids resident Natalie Hockamier said she was disheartened by the reversal.

“Many cities across the country have improved health outcomes for their residents, pets and wildlife by successfully adopting organic practices in their parks. Grand Rapids deserves no less,” she said.

Hockamier, a member of the Sierra Club Greater Grand Rapids grassroots movement Growing Green, started a petition in August to encourage the city to reinstate its commitment to natural management of Sixth Street and Canal parks. Last fall, the nonprofit sustainable landscaping initiative Midwest Grows Green (MGG) conducted soil tests and compiled a three-year natural lawn care management plan for the city.

“Transitioning turfgrass away from chemicals usually takes three to five years for optimal results,” said MGG’s Ryan Anderson. “Implementation of our three-year plan just started this April. By discontinuing this project just a couple months into management, the city gave our plan no chance to succeed.”

Hockamier and Growing Green Grand Rapids said they believe Grand Rapids residents and businesses want safe and healthy parks in Grand Rapids.

Those interested can sign the petition at

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