Through his involvement in the International Council of Shopping Centers and in the larger Grubb & Ellis network, retail investment advisor Bill Bussey has access to movers and shakers at many of the world’s foremost retail and restaurant operations. For this reason, Bussey and other West Michigan Realtors have become unlikely pitchmen for West Michigan’s economic development.
“It’s hard to even get a meeting unless they’re first convinced there might be a reason to come here,” said Bussey, vice president of Grubb & Ellis|Paramount Commerce in Grand Rapids. “There are people in the past who almost said, ‘Where is Grand Rapids?’ They knew where it was, but they didn’t know why they should be there. We help them open their eyes to the opportunities that are here.”
Even when retailers or franchisors have other stores performing well in the region, Michigan’s rapidly declining economy has made selling the region a particularly difficult task in recent years. But the most recent Grubb & Ellis West Michigan Retail Outlook goes a long way toward proving West Michigan is the “economic engine of the state.”
The region has five successful enclosed malls, with the General Growth Properties-owned RiverTown Crossings in Grandville boasting sales well above $400 per square foot, and CBL & Associates’ The Lakes mall in Muskegon setting chain sales for several retail launches.
Demographically, the West Michigan work force is younger, more educated and more likely to be married than other parts of the Midwest. As a whole, the region is more conservative, resulting in higher savings as a percentage of income — allowing the West Michigan population to purchase goods and services during an economic downturn without the burden of incurring debt.
The health science sector is booming. There are already more than 63,000 college students in the region, and the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine is set to expand into downtown Grand Rapids. The Gross Metro Product grew 13 percent to $48.8 billion from 2001 to 2004, one of the strongest growth trends of the Midwest.
Plus, the “bad news is also the good news.” The region does have a high unemployment rate compared to other parts of the Midwest, but that rate has dropped nearly 2 percent in the last 24 months. While Michigan is shedding jobs, West Michigan is hiring.
“The area benefits from a traditionally conservative area that has never been overbuilt,” notes the retail outlook report. “If anything, this area is still ‘under-stored’ compared to most other metropolitan areas.”
Hot Retail Construction Areas
- Interchanges along the M-6 South Beltline
- East Beltline (M-37) from Knapp to 3 Mile streets, including the possible site of a new lifestyle center in Grand Rapids Township
- 28th Street and I-96 in Cascade Township
- Walker Avenue and I-96, including the possible site of a new Cabela’s store
Source: Grubb & Ellis|Paramount Commerce West Michigan Retail Outlook 2007 CQ