Businesses fret over health costs


It’s official: The federal requirements concerning health care are having an impact on West Michigan businesses.

The recent results of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s yearly government affairs survey reveal that, statistically speaking, West Michigan business owners and employees find the costs of federal health care and federal spending to be extremely important when it comes to business.

GRACC, which puts out the survey once a year, reported the cost of health care scored the highest average rating (8.27) in the category of “issue of importance relating to business.” Local government issues, both regulatory and tax-related, scored second highest, with 6.98. The topic of tax burden placed third, with 6.88.

Rick Baker, president and CEO of the chamber, said the report brings concerns about the issues from an anecdotal level to some statistical validity.The survey went out electronically to 2,700 chamber members, of whom 700 responded. Questions, which are usually updated every year, were written based on the perceptions of the chamber’s member committees, he said.

Baker was not surprised that health care was on everybody’s radar.

“Health care has been an issue for a long time, so we expected that. We also anticipated concerns at the federal level with the budget crisis,” he said. “We have the looming 2014 (deadline) when the health care reform is enacted and, in 2013, people are getting ready for the changes. It just creates a higher level of uncertainty, so it’s top-of-mind for most people.”

The results of the survey are part of what Baker said is a growing trend of dissatisfaction with the performance of the federal government. Over the years, he has watched as the survey has plotted what appears to be a declining level of trust in Washington’s system.

“There’s been a growing concern over the stability of the federal level process that has escalated from year to year and continues to escalate,” he said.

“For the last five years, it’s been an issue, but if you go back a decade or more, it wasn’t as much of an issue. Part of why it is now is because it is being talked about a lot, but there’s also some major issues our country is facing. People want to find out that there’s real answers and real solutions, and they’re not seeing that.”

Although the public’s lack of patience with Washington was not new information to Baker, he was mildly surprised that respondents selected “investment in early childhood” as the third-most important topic under the category of development issues that should be a priority for GRACC.

Early childhood development scored 7.11, beating out the issues of expanding school choice (6.19) and increasing postsecondary certifications and degrees (6.99).

The highest ranked issue in the category was “aligning curriculum with needs of businesses” (7.55).

“What’s interesting to us is the increasing interest in childhood education, especially for early talent development,” he said. “It seems that businesses are becoming more aware of the need to start earlier in the child’s career learning cycle.”

Another interesting find for Baker was that the majority of the survey-takers marked themselves as working for a nonprofit (96), beating out the employment categories of manufacturer and/or processor (74) and professional (61).

West Michigan is ripe with nonprofits, he said, but he did not expect nonprofits to be the majority in the survey response.

“I honestly don’t know why that number was so high,” he said. “There are a lot of nonprofits in the community and quite a few in our members of the chamber, but I do think we have a nice spread across the business field.”

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