Switch will test region, state’s abilities — especially in educational attainment


Brian Long takes a decidedly conservative view of the regional economy as director of supply management research at Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business. His reports on the local economy in the Business Journal throughout 2015 indicated “slow but very steady growth.”

In West Michigan, such statements generally are regarded as good economic news; it is what business leaders and economic analysts in this region see as a “tortoise and the hare” outcome to sustaining the long-term regional economy.

In 2016, indications are the tortoise will be on steroids, pushing West Michigan businesses to new levels and laying bare the under-achievements of education.

The pending development of the Switch SuperNAP data center at the former Steelcase Pyramid in Gaines Township has economic ramifications exceeding any in this region’s history. The development of “an industrial park for the new economy” is not only unprecedented in Michigan but impacts the entire eastern half of the U.S.  

It is remarkable, too, for the fact that it wasn’t — nor could it be — a plan originating as part of some well-thought-out regional agenda item to trigger such a development.

The impact of the Switch SuperNAP is significant for the creation of jobs, the education level of those employed, the increase in regional earnings and in airport business travel — and the boost to the psyche of West Michigan business owners.

“Slow and steady” is a description left in the dust of 2015.

Even before the mid-December announcements proclaiming a done deal, economic development leaders were advising of increasing technological sophistication in the region. The announcement of the new Holland SmartZone, a satellite of Grand Rapids’ SmartZone, is perfect preparation for something no one saw coming.

In reporting on expectations for 2016, Lakeshore Advantage President and CEO Jennifer Owens noted an upward trend in the number of mergers and acquisitions as area employers reach the stage of needing to move up to the next level.

“Looking forward, I see that will continue, and we need to see it as a way to develop a new relationship with these larger companies who may be taking on a West Michigan employer,” she told the Business Journal.

Grand Rapids has provided a good lifestyle landing strip for employees new to the city. The biggest issues will be the low levels of regional educational attainment and the low unemployment levels, making recruitment essential (and businesses recruiting employees will have stiff competition).

Education is the economic tool left wanting and not given any favor by the governor or legislators these past 10 years. Michigan leaders must make that change.

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