Economic incentive programs should include talent acquisition


Michigan and regional economic development teams have seized upon the late June news of Grand Rapids’ (metro area) No. 3 rank in the nation for economic growth by Area Development magazine, an authoritative compilation of measures of job growth and economic development for U.S. regions.

The Business Journal is full of reports on the individuals and businesses collectively driving such attainment, but most reports also note the struggle to recruit workers in nearly every sector of the varied regional economy.

If the region is to retain its rank, it is incumbent upon economic development agencies to address the recruitment issue collectively, not just individually.

The Business Journal has reported on focused efforts by every regional chamber of commerce and economic development group. Gov. Rick Snyder has emphasized skilled trades as much as STEM education efforts and has provided state tax dollars to community colleges to help answer the increasingly alarming deficits.

With every announcement of business expansion or new business recruitment, the state — and local economic groups — tout the number of jobs to be created. One might wonder if the economic incentive programs need to shift to include talent recruitment.

Lakeshore Advantage is the most recent economic development group to note the severity of the problem. The group released its annual Business Intelligence Report, highlighting regional business investment in research and development, projected growth and the challenge of talent acquisition.

The story notes: Of the participating companies, 76 percent indicated they are experiencing challenges with recruiting talent, up from 71 percent in 2013. Approximately 33 percent of companies reported an increasing number of unfilled positions, while 64 percent have stabilized unmet workforce needs.

Jennifer Owens, Lakeshore Advantage president, said the group’s focus has been on internships and training — even reaching out to Michigan school students to provide students exposure to new technology realities in manufacturing and other business sectors. 

The annual Lakeshore Advantage report also shows an increasing number of employer training programs: Such programs in 2013 were offered by approximately 37 percent of companies; in 2014, the number of companies increasing spending on training internal employees shot up to nearly 59 percent.

Owens told the Business Journal, “If we can’t fix the talent challenges and disconnect of what our employers need, then long-term we will not continue to grow as a region.”

The same debilitating issue is reported again this week by residential housing builders, and one business owner indicated the worker shortage was so severe it impacted the number of homes the company could build.

New, concerted efforts of emphasis and incentive must be united, and are already too late.

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