2014 projections show economic vitality but can the region sustain it?


The Employer Associations of America released the results of its national survey of 1,740 business leaders, which reflected that 90 percent of the executives anticipate a similar or better economic outlook in 2014, up from 79 percent last year.

Among those surveyed, 62 percent reported business growth in 2013, and 71 percent anticipate sales/revenue increases this year.

Year-end reporting of 2014 projections in West Michigan also is strong. Michael A. Dunlap & Associates owner Mike Dunlap uncharacteristically projected the office/commercial furniture industry is set to enjoy “the best year this industry has seen since the falloff in 2008.”

While manufacturing remains the largest business sector in West Michigan, surveys show job growth and wage improvements are, and will continue to be, in the service sectors. That is reflected by Business Leaders for Michigan, which notes the state leads all others in engineers per capita and views that as key to strengthen the state economy.

The worry is those workers will be lured out of state by higher wages and better advancement opportunities elsewhere.

Those are particularly issues in West Michigan where, as in other areas around the country, the concern is most focused on competition. The advice three years ago from professional associations to focus on retention and recruitment now has become a siren-blare warning.

George Erickcek, an economist and senior regional analyst at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, last month noted that “manufacturing appears to be playing a smaller role” in employment growth. Erickcek noted employment growth in the Grand Rapids region has outpaced many other Midwestern cities.

That growth, he said, shows in online job-posting statistics, indicating that business and finance occupations recorded above-average growth only in the Grand Rapids MSA, with the next highest growth in Kansas City, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. Other comparison cities were St. Louis, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Detroit, Louisville, Omaha and Des Moines.

The growth in goods-producing jobs in West Michigan in 2014 is predicted by Erickcek to be 2.6 percent, compared to 2.8 percent in the services sector. In 2015, those numbers are forecast to be a total increase of 2.5 percent — 2.1 in goods-producing and 2.8 in service jobs.

The continued march of the new economy must be urgently addressed by economic development and government sector policies and programs, as well as by businesses aggressively pursuing the competition.

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