Survey bemoans lack of talent

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Results of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 government affairs survey are in.

A talented workforce, quality infrastructure and regional housing supply are the top three issues for West Michigan businesses entering 2020.

More than 400 chamber members completed the survey, 65% of them representing small or mid-sized businesses.

The chamber said this annual survey, coupled with its legislative priorities, is the foundation of its advocacy for member-driven policy, allowing the chamber to better inform government of area business needs.

“This is valuable input from our business community,” said Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids chamber. “This survey helps paint a clearer picture of our business climate and the barriers to business growth as our team works to make West Michigan a prosperous region for all.”

In this year’s survey, over 94% of respondents said the West Michigan business climate was either favorable or very favorable — a slight uptick from last year.

Members once again put a talented workforce at the top of the list as the biggest barrier for growth.

Eighty percent of respondents with a direct role in hiring said they hired and/or added new positions within the last 12 months. Of those, over 71% said they had difficulty finding qualified applicants. These numbers are higher than last year’s numbers — 77% and 67%, respectively — yet lower than the 2018 survey results.

“The survey reflects a healthy business community but also a growing region and the growing pains that come along with it,” said Andy Johnston, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs. “Policymakers should take note and action to address infrastructure and talent needs.”

Johnston said he believes the first order of business is for the state Legislature to restore the Going PRO Talent Funds, which provide employers with short-term funds to train and retain top talent. The $37 million of funding for 2020 was vetoed by the governor, and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce said it’s pushing to have the funds restored.

“While it is widely expected that these dollars will be restored in a January supplemental budget, the delay has impacted nearly 1,300 employers who were expected to start receiving funds this month. The delayed funding puts the training of over 43,400 workers in limbo,” the Michigan Chamber said.

What positions are the most difficult to hire and retain? Members said it’s all positions, from entry level to executive level and everything in between. Lineworkers, software engineers, retail workers, data entry, custodial services, sales, CPAs and nurses all were listed as difficult positions to fill.

In response, members report increasing wages and significantly enhancing recruitment efforts.

Regional housing supply and affordability continue to move up the list of priorities. Last year was the first time housing supply was indicated among the top five issues. Now, it is in the top three for 2020.

“More and more employers are feeling the strain of the tight housing market and the impact it has on talent attraction and retention,” said Josh Lunger, senior director of government affairs.

Lunger said the chamber is working on the housing needs assessment of Grand Rapids and Kent County with fellow stakeholders and is “committed to advancing policies that promote a healthier housing market, create more housing supply and positively impact affordability.”

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