Seidman study is a call to West Michigan business leaders for change


Grand Valley State University Seidman College of Business has provided a rare glimpse into the impact of the entrepreneurial efforts in West Michigan. The quadrennial research and the resulting report, “Empowering Entrepreneurship,” offers benchmarks by which the community can measure such successes — and important obstacles to be overcome.

The likely most Tweeted line of the survey relates to a quote by Paul Isely, Seidman School chair of economics, who noted, “Entrepreneurship was more than twice our job growth on this side of the state. West Michigan has been growing at about twice the rate of the U.S. economy since coming out of the recession.”

Isely noted 63 percent of the jobs created in West Michigan came from firms that did not exist prior to 2009. That fact must be weighed with another: New job creation since 2009 has been dismal across the country and in Michigan. North Dakota was the top-ranked state for job growth, amounting to 5.9 percent, according to the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. Michigan ranked fifth with just 2 percent job growth.

Economic analysts generally agree the jobs lost during the recession are not coming back; job growth therefore depends heavily on those new opportunities. And that is the most freighting aspect of the Seidman report.

Isely noted several changes toward a regional culture welcoming entrepreneurial effort and the risk associated, including improved attitudes and opportunities in the financial arena overcoming previously conservative regard of new businesses. But real gains will come in review and work to change the impediments of a fully entrepreneurial community:

  • Grand Rapids ranked low in the measure of the cost of doing business, moving from 31st to 29th place nationally.
  • Compared to benchmarked cities, Grand Rapids showed the most “sluggish” progress in H-1B visas to allow foreign workers in specialized fields.
  • Wages across West Michigan are below average.
  • Grand Rapids needs more affordable technical education avenues.
  • The rate of patents is not increasing.

Isely commented, “I think we’ve made some gains in the past few years (since the first “Empowering Entrepreneurship” study), but we’re losing young workers, not bringing in outside talent, and we’re not increasing our rate of patenting. All that tells us that what we’re missing right now is the mix of talent.”

Seidman College of Business has provided a commendable report with plenty of insight. The obstacles still impeding that path of progress can only be changed by the C-suite and business owners of the community.

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