Signs of recovery from the Great Recession are finally beginning to show in Muskegon — the West Michigan area probably most severely compromised.
It is certainly good news for all area economic development directors who have spent more than a decade repeating the mantra “all boats must rise …” But sustaining such momentum will be difficult in the Port City area.
The Muskegon Area First economic development team is heartily cheering a market report published a few weeks ago in conjunction with the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Association, showing about $400 million in investment over the past few years. The largest portion of that, $220 million, is contributed by the Mercy Health Medical Center proposed expansion. Manufacturing sector expansions taken together amount to the bulk of the rest. Muskegon Community College facility projects contributed another $28 million, and it is particularly good news that much of that investment targets the downtown campus.
The Business Journal report on page 1 shows some diversity in the investments by manufacturers, including those representing aerospace, as well as Muskegon’s more traditional job source: automotive industry suppliers.
Any and all investments are sorely needed in a community left to consider the land scars left by the implosion of the Sappi Paper Mill, and the 120-acre Muskegon Lake site on which it sat idle for many years.
“New economy” aerospace and auto manufacturing job openings in a community suffering 7 percent unemployment in May (just 0.2 percent better than the Niles-Benton Harbor statistical area, according to Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget) are welcome improvements in Muskegon’s economy. New economy jobs and new employers, however, can only be sustained by an educated workforce and through employee recruitment. Updated U.S. Census statistics show Muskegon population numbers continue to decline; almost 20 percent of Muskegon’s population is at or below the poverty level; just 16.8 percent of its population has a bachelor’s degree/equivalent or more (compared to 25.5 percent in Michigan); and median household income measures $40,843 compared to $48,471 in Michigan. That’s not good news for the recruiters in the Muskegon area whether related to business development or workforce attraction.
Muskegon’s next investments must be focused on improvements in those numbers cited above, and that can only happen with educational opportunity and success.