GR chamber survey reveals top priorities for 2021

700 members say COVID-19 business relief/recovery, talent and health care affordability are primary issues.
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Johnston

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) A Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce survey shows COVID-19 business relief and recovery, a talented workforce and health care affordability are the top three issues concerning West Michigan businesses in 2021.

Results of the 2021 West Michigan Business Advocacy Survey are in, representing the outlook of more than 700 Grand Rapids Chamber members.

“With vaccines and an end to the pandemic on the horizon, this is valuable input from our business community as we work to build a strong recovery,” said Rick Baker, president and CEO of the chamber. “The message is clear: create a business climate that supports small businesses and those impacted by public health restrictions, as well as tackle barriers to business growth, like talent, to make West Michigan a prosperous region for all.”

In this year’s survey, over 70% of respondents said the West Michigan business climate was either favorable or very favorable — a significant backtrack from last year’s 94% favorability and many preceding years in the upper 90s. About 78% of this year’s respondents represented small or mid-sized businesses.

“Public health measures and business restrictions put in place to beat the pandemic have certainly impacted this metric,” Baker said.

“We are focused on working local, regional and state leaders to get this perception back on track. We must strive to be the best place to start and run a business in 2021.”

COVID-19 recovery

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 relief and recovery was at the top of the list for this year’s survey respondents. From the respondents who classified themselves as business owners or executives, over 44% of them said revenue is down by more than 26% from this time last year.

Additionally, over 46% of these respondents need financial assistance to stay viable, with 23% being at risk of closing under current conditions within the next 12 months.

“This information is concerning and shows a huge threat to our economy,” said Andy Johnston, vice president of government affairs at the Grand Rapids Chamber. “These businesses support thousands of families and help make West Michigan a vibrant and attractive community. We are hopeful that these businesses can pull through but know they will need additional assistance to get through the winter.”

When it comes to top barriers preventing people from getting back to work, employee fear, consumer confidence and behavior, clear guidance on safe operations, and employee logistics, such as transportation and child care, were of greatest concern.

Talent

Members once again ranked a talented workforce as one of the top priorities they would like to see addressed.

About 69% of respondents with a direct role in hiring said they hired and/or added new positions within the past 12 months. Of those, over 55% said they had difficulty finding qualified applicants. These numbers are substantially lower than last year’s numbers of 80% and 71%, respectively, yet are more aligned with the 2018 survey results.

“Policymakers should take note of this continued concern and how it impacts our COVID-19 recovery,” Johnston said. “Supporting policies and programs to increase workforce participation and attract top talent are at the top of our to-do list. A focus on growing existing proven talent programs, like the Going Pro Training Fund, must remain a top priority for Lansing.”

As with past survey results, members said the positions that are the most difficult to hire and retain run the gamut from entry-level to executive-level positions, including nurses, software engineers, retail workers, IT, custodial services, sales and skilled trade workers. In response to the challenge, members reported enhancing recruitment efforts, increasing wages and upskilling current staff members.

Health care affordability

Health care affordability returned to a top spot and dropped housing supply and affordability out of the top three. Health care access and affordability always have been a priority for the Grand Rapids Chamber, and coming up on the one-year anniversary of a global pandemic has put a spotlight on the cost burden to employers, lack of access to employees and inequities in the system, the chamber said.

The Grand Rapids Chamber’s Government Affairs Annual Survey, coupled with its legislative priorities, is the foundation for the chamber’s advocacy for member-driven policy and provides data by which to advocate for business’s needs with the state government.

Complete results from the 2021 West Michigan Business Advocacy Survey are at bit.ly/advocacy-survey-GRchamber.

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