Report: Employer outlook remains positive

Lakeshore Advantage analyzes business leader interviews in annual report.
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Jennifer Owens. Courtesy Lakeshore Advantage

Ottawa and Allegan counties remained economically strong in 2021, showing growth trends rooted in the strength of the manufacturing industry, according to a Lakeshore Advantage report released last month.

The 2021 Business Intelligence Report is a Lakeshore Advantage analysis of business executive responses for 120 companies in Allegan, Muskegon and Ottawa counties in 2021.

“Data drives our work, and this input from employers is crucial in how we support our economic base in West Michigan,” said Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage. “The 2021 Business Intelligence Report offers insight into how our primary employers have emerged from the COVID-19 crisis and what’s now top of mind for them in this time of recovery.”

Ninety-five percent of companies surveyed reported market share was increasing or stable in 2021, compared to 69% in 2019. In line with the positive trend of growing market share, 83% of employers reported increasing or stable sales in 2021, and 87% of employers reported new products, services and/or capabilities in the next two years.

Highlighted in this report was the fact diversification helped many companies in the lakeshore region to remain strong. Seventy percent of companies interviewed serve more than one industry with automotive manufacturing, furniture and related product manufacturing, and consumer goods production being the top three most common industries interviewed.

Sixty-nine percent of employers said they have plans to expand in the next three years, up from 55% in 2020. Lakeshore Advantage said its project pipeline has never been fuller, with existing companies looking to expand locally or new companies looking to relocate to the area.

Amanda Murray. Courtesy Lakeshore Advantage

“These anticipated expansion projects look like small incremental growth of existing companies who have maxed out their space and need room to grow,” said Amanda Murray, Lakeshore Advantage vice president of business solutions. “We are seeing expansion projects take significantly longer, with costs up about 30% pre-pandemic, so 18 months is not too early to reach out to us. We’ll connect you to resources and partners to help manage your project well.”

The report also highlighted expansion and industry trends to look out for in 2022, such as Industry 4.0, a term used to encompass a wide range of technologies that allow businesses to control processes, enable cost savings and capture data to understand their opportunities and risks more fully. Over 60% of companies have reported they are “very or somewhat” prepared to implement Industry 4.0 technologies into their processes, with a lack of staff expertise cited as the biggest barrier.

“Industry 4.0 helps make automation cost-effective, flexible and accessible to smaller job-shop manufacturers like Impact Fab,” said Ross Haan, president of Impact Fab and an early adopter of Industry 4.0. “Integrating Industry 4.0 practices helped us increase productivity by over three times from some of our previous manufacturing methods.”

Business executive interviews were conducted by Lakeshore Advantage, Greater Muskegon Economic Development and The Chamber of Commerce Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg to produce the regional report.

The full 2021 Business Intelligence Report is available at bir.lakeshoreadvantage.com/bir2021.

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