Local, regional and statewide economic reports all remain positive as the fourth quarter begins, very likely providing optimism for 2018 business plans. The Business Journal believes it especially important to underscore regional notations of expenditures for research and development but also notes the continued struggle to find talent. Adding to the issues related to talent attraction is a lack of affordable housing. That both have been identified in regional business surveys is uncommon and certainly tempers the rosy near-term outlook.
The Business Journal in mid-September published a manufacturing outlook report from Brian Long, director of supply management research at Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business. Long wrote, “Firms would like to expand, but continue to bemoan the absence of qualified people to hire. For Michigan, about 80,000 jobs can’t be filled because not enough trained people are available to fill the positions. At some firms, even unskilled labor jobs starting at $14 an hour can’t be permanently filled.”
The Business Leaders for Michigan statewide survey notes optimism for the state economy has remained relatively consistent since the fourth quarter of 2016, but for the quarter now passing, it reported a significant decrease in business leaders who think the economy will continue to grow in the next 18 months.
The Business Journal is reporting the results of the West Michigan Lakeshore Region Business Intelligence report, strengthened by the partnership of economic development groups in Allegan, Muskegon and Ottawa counties for its overview. The region significantly outpaces the U.S. Midwest in business growth, sales, research and development. Ninety-one percent of West Michigan Lakeshore Region companies interviewed said they released a new product or service in the past five years and 82 percent plan to do the same in the next two years. Seventy-five percent of West Michigan Lakeshore Region companies indicated they planned to expand in the next three years, compared to 50 percent of companies in the Midwest.
The Lakeshore group specifically surveyed businesses about barriers to growth. Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage, noted in the Business Journal report, “Employers not only are trying to attract people into the region, but once they get them in, there are little to no apartments or entry-level housing.” Her counterpart in Grand Haven called the responses “a gut check.”
It is that caution the Business Journal finds important — and motivation to continue efforts of talent inclusion and problem solving.