Census numbers make area more competitive


The Right Place Inc. is pleased with the new census numbers that reflect a population of 1 million in the Grand Rapids metro area, and expects the new data will serve West Michigan’s economic development well.

Metro Grand Rapids now boasts a population of 1,005,648, compared to a 2010 population of 774,160. The new numbers do not reflect a growth as much as a change in the metropolitan statistical area, which has been altered to consist of Kent, Ottawa, Mecosta and Barry counties. Previous census data was drawn from an MSA area of Kent, Ionia, Barry and Newaygo counties.

Representatives for The Right Place often are quoted explaining that, when a company is considering relocating or expanding, the first step is a filtering-out process. That process includes a number of variables such as population size.

“Companies have this perception of ‘I need to be in a community of a million-plus,’” explained Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing and communications for The Right Place. “If they go out and they simply select that drop-down box — just like you do on Amazon.com: show me all communities, all MSAs over 1 million, hit submit — all of West Michigan is gone. Now, that has changed.”

The new MSA also paints a more positive picture of the region’s educational attainment.

“Folks with a bachelor’s degree or higher will go up from 26.2 percent under the old MSA to 27.7 percent (under the new MSA),” said Brandt Siegel, researcher at The Right Place.

“In addition to that, because we are going to be adding some other educational institutions, our number of completions — that is, degree completions or certifications — everything from an associate’s degree to a welding certification, all the way up to a Ph.D. will significantly increase. If we looked at 2011 completions under the old MSA configuration, that would be 8,340, and if we looked at the same year with the new counties, we see 15,179 completions. That’s an increase of 82 percent,” he said.

“In addition to that, if there is a company that comes with very specific educational programs that they want to see in your community, we have more institutions within our new MSA that may offer those courses, certification or degrees. From a standpoint of workforce development, the quality of our labor, that could pay huge dividends for our attraction efforts.”

According to information provided by demographer Ken Darga of the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, the new MSA places Kent County near the middle of the top 15 counties in Michigan with respect to the percent of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher. The top 10 counties include: Washtenaw, Oakland, Leelanau, Ingham, Kalamazoo, Midland, Livingston, Kent, Grand Traverse and Emmet.

Finally, the new MSA now reflects a gross regional product increase of nearly 24 percent, up from 33.1 billion to 41 billion, and an increase in manufacturing jobs, which now account for 18.8 percent of all jobs compared to 16 percent in the old MSA.

Though the region is not actually producing 24 percent more in GRP, it will be perceived differently by interested companies, and likely will remain in the running longer as they narrow down their search for viable areas to relocate or expand.

“This increases our chances of having the supply chain or the labor quality that a lot of interested businesses may be looking for,” Siegel noted.

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