Employers report positive outlook despite challenges

Lakeshore Advantage report analyzes business leader interviews pre- and post-COVID onset.
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Owens

Total company sales, new product development, and plans to expand in the next three years remain strong for West Michigan Lakeshore employers despite COVID-19 challenges, according to a Lakeshore Advantage report.

The 2020 Business Intelligence Report, published Jan. 29, is an analysis of business executive responses from 120 companies in Allegan, Muskegon and Ottawa counties in 2020.

In the West Michigan lakeshore region that includes the above three counties, manufacturing accounts for 28% of all jobs. These workers tend to earn 33% more in hourly compensation (wages and benefits) than comparable workers in the rest of the private sector. Manufacturing accounts for 39.7% of the gross regional product for Allegan, Muskegon and Ottawa counties, according to Economic Modeling Specialists International.

“Data drives our work, and employer input is crucial to support our local economic base. In the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we administered 10 weekly quick polls and received 1,000 responses that enabled us to meet immediate business needs,” said Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage. “The 2020 Business Intelligence Report offers a pre-pandemic baseline and reveals what’s top of mind for area employers as we emerge from crisis stage and look to the future.”

Business leader responses before the COVID-19 pandemic onset and again several months later show that while down from pre-COVID-19 responses, 72% of companies are reporting increasing or stable sales. Companies with increasing or stable sales were likely to be in advanced manufacturing, durable goods manufacturing and food processing industries.

When company owners were asked about changes they plan to make in the next six months, their top response was increasing sales efforts (47%) followed by increasing marketing efforts (32%).

“This report gives companies in Muskegon, Ottawa and Allegan counties an incredibly valuable perspective on how COVID has affected businesses in our region,” said Morgan Carroll, director of business development for Greater Muskegon Economic Development, formerly Muskegon Area First.

“They can compare how they’re performing with some of the top corporations in West Michigan, see how their own industry has been impacted and learn about what others are doing to adapt. This report also reinforces that every company, no matter (its) size, has had to make changes, but the overall outlook for growth along the lakeshore is strong.”

While down slightly from pre-COVID numbers (81% to 74%), nearly three out of four respondents anticipate new products in the next two years. Companies reporting new products on the horizon tended to be in advanced manufacturing, aerospace, automotive, durable goods manufacturing and food processing industries.

“While the pandemic has been disruptive in many ways, it hasn’t curtailed Gentex’s product development efforts,” said Craig Piersma, director of marketing and corporate communications for Gentex. “This past year, we developed new partnerships, acquired innovative technologies and expanded our product portfolio not only in the automotive industry, but also (in) entirely new markets. This growth trajectory will continue in 2021 as we extend our capabilities in digital vision, dimmable glass, car connectivity and sensing systems.”

Prior to March 15, 2020, three out of four employers indicated they had plans to expand in the next three years. When asked this question again several months post-pandemic onset, 55% of business executives indicated plans to expand in the next three years. Perrigo, a provider of self-care products with its North American headquarters in Allegan, started construction on two distribution centers in the region in 2020.

“Our combined Allegan and Ottawa county campuses comprise the company’s largest manufacturing operations by far, representing more than half of all the units we produce on a global basis,” said Ron Janish, executive vice president, global operations and supply chain for Perrigo. “With 11,000 employees globally, and over 4,000 employees in West Michigan, the region is truly the cornerstone of our global operating network.”

Business executive interviews for this West Michigan lakeshore-area report were conducted by Lakeshore Advantage, Greater Muskegon Economic Development, The Chamber of Commerce Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg and other area chambers.

“The Chamber of Commerce Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg has been partnering with Lakeshore Advantage on collecting this data for several years, interviewing 20 companies in northwest Ottawa County to support the great work they have done with publishing this important report. Including business leaders from northwest Ottawa County responses with others in the lakeshore region gives a regional perspective on the lakeshore’s economic health and vitality,” said Elizabeth Butler, director of economic development strategic directions for the Chamber of Commerce of Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg.

The report also highlights company partnerships and expansions, expansion trends and industry trends to look for in 2021. The full 2020 Business Intelligence Report is available at bir.lakeshoreadvantage.com.

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