Muskegon WaitTil Next Year

    MUSKEGON — Unemployment in Muskegon County will inch higher during 2003 before improving economic conditions generate new job growth in the latter half of the year and into 2004, according to a new outlook for the area.

    George Erickcek, senior regional analyst for the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, sees Muskegon County’s jobless rate hitting 9.4 percent during the year, as reduced manufacturing and government employment outpaces service-sector job gains and the area’s workforce expands.

    Manufacturers appear as though they will hold off the hiring of new employees until the economic rebound gains a strong foothold later in the year, Erickcek said. The situation locally mirrors the national scene, he said.

    “This truly is a jobless recovery and manufacturing is bearing the brunt of it,” Erickcek said in presenting his annual economic outlook for Muskegon County recently during the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Early Bird Breakfast.

    “We are looking at a recovery where employment is not very robust,” Erickcek said. “Employment’s just kind of been treading water.”

    Overall, Erickcek expects Muskegon County to follow state and national economic trends during 2003 and experience a modest 0.5 percent increase in employment for the entire year, largely on the strength of a 1.3 percent gain in service-producing employment. The gain will come following a 0.5 percent decline in service-sector employment during 2002.

    Service-producing employment will not grow fast enough to offset losses in the goods-producing sector, resulting in a higher unemployment rate for 2003, Erickcek said. Muskegon County’s unemployment rate rose from 6.9 percent in 2001 to an average of 8.7 percent in 2002.

    Goods-producing employment, after a 0.7 percent decline in 2002, is forecast to fall another 1.1 percent in 2003 as job cuts made last year at several manufacturers — Howmet, Knoll, Sappi, Dana and Roundy’s included — take full effect.

    Government employment is forecast to decline 0.3 percent this year following a 1.2 percent gain in 2002.

    Erickcek sees far better conditions locally in 2004. He forecasts an overall 1.4 percent employment gain in Muskegon County in 2004 spread across all three sectors: 1.2 percent in goods producing, 1.8 percent in service producing, and 0.2 percent in government.

    Beyond the near-term, Erickcek is upbeat about the Muskegon area’s economic fortunes for the future. The SmartZone business park planned along Muskegon Lake, known as Edison Landing, is planting seeds for the future with a high-tech employment sector that “has the potential of changing the face of Muskegon, in my opinion,” he said.

    “These are enormous changes for the future. We’re going to see the injection of those activities later on,” Erickcek said. “It’s a bold, aggressive, innovative idea.”  

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