The top concerns for area employers in 2019 are availability of skilled labor and cost of health care.
According to the annual survey of more than 600 Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce members, 37.7 percent and 35 percent, respectively, noted these as the business community’s most pressing issues.
Three-fourths of the respondents represent small or midsized businesses. Respondents indicated engineers are the most widely needed position, with a wide range of careers also lacking needed talent, including skilled labor, sales, technicians, drivers and construction workers.
The chamber analyzed data from other chambers across the region, and talent is the top concern across the board, according to Andy Johnston, the chamber’s VP of government and corporate affairs.
“Workforce development has been a priority for some time, and this survey indicates we must step up our efforts to an even higher level in 2019,” said Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Chamber of Commerce.
“From a chamber of commerce perspective, these are good problems to have,” Johnston said. “These are the kinds of problems that we want to be working to address.”
Despite concerns, 93 percent of Grand Rapids members reported a favorable or very favorable perception of the West Michigan business climate. This marks a 3 percent decrease from 2018, about the same number as in 2017.
General talent retention, diversity and inclusion and — for the first time — housing availability and affordability were named top concerns by about a quarter of those surveyed.
Johnston said the basis of the housing issue is lack of options close to places of work.
Noted again for 2019 was the ongoing issue of downtown parking for employees, which Johnston said is limiting businesses’ ability to grow downtown.
When respondents were asked to identify mobility concerns for their businesses, 46 percent answered employee commutes and 39 percent answered parking availability.
More than half of respondents said there should be a greater focus on having centrally located parking structures for downtown employees.
While leaders do not want an oversupply of spaces, Johnston said there should be an increase that coincides with the growing population.
He said the chamber is working with DGRI to identify better options, such as parking outside of downtown and taking transit for employees who do not leave their offices during the day.
To Johnston, all the issues mentioned go hand in hand.
“It's all about getting talent to the job place,” he said.
“For businesses to grow and attract the best and brightest to our area, we need sensible policies that promote housing supply and affordability,” said Joshua Lunger, the chamber’s director of government affairs. “This issue coupled with mobility places a great strain on businesses and threatens our continued growth.”
He said the survey helps guide the chamber’s legislative priorities.
“This confirmed a lot of the legislative priorities that have been established and gives us really specific data that we can then use to go lobby the legislature,” Johnston said.
Johnston said the chamber will have a “redoubled effort” toward promoting the importance of talent to the new state administration, including policies that increase workforce participation, such as an improved child care system and criminal justice reform.
The chamber has several policy issues of focus besides the ones mentioned, including plans to promote comprehensive sustainable materials management programs, preservation of electric company choice, and limited government involvement or regulation of employers’ workforce.