HOLLAND — Employers in Allegan and Ottawa counties are growing in a healthy regional economy, according to a Lakeshore Advantage report.
The 2019 Economic Update report gathered information from 120 senior level executives at primary employers in Allegan and Ottawa counties from June 2018 to May 2019.
The report shows 73 percent of employers planning to expand, which is up a little from last year, but on par for the last three years, said Emily Staley, vice president of marketing and communications at Lakeshore Advantage.
Those planning to expand reported a possible average of 25 new jobs per potential expansion, each with about a $7 million average investment, according to the report.
There have been some large expansions in the past year, Staley said, but most of what they have seen has showed steady, incremental growth.
“Our manufacturing base here is diverse, and it’s growing and has been growing over the last five years,” Staley said.
The top two barriers to growth reported by employers was availability of labor supply, and land and building availability and cost, respectively.
“Labor demand continues to outpace supply, it’s not unique to our region,” Staley said. “But we have the lowest unemployment in the state.”
Job growth outpaced the national growth rate by 3.2 percent, and the region had a 2.9 percent unemployment rate in 2018. The hardest positions to fill were engineering, skilled trades, material handling and planning, and operator/assembly.
“(Labor shortage) is the No. 1 issue reported by employers,” Staley said. “We’ve done many things to bridge that gap, and have seen employers do creative things as well like innovation and automation for harder jobs to fill.”
Lakeshore Advantage is working with supply chain methodology to help bridge those gaps for workers, Staley said, by partnering with organizations such as Grand Rapids Community College for training, and Careerline Tech Center.
This week is manufacturing week, another talent growth initiative where more than 1,000 students from schools in the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District visited local businesses.
“Talent is not a traditional economic development area of focus, but Lakeshore Advantage has worked very hard over the last seven years to make it a focus because it is so requested by employers,” Staley said.
In the first quarter of 2019, there was 1.3 percent industrial land vacancy rate in West Michigan. What most employers are looking for the most, Staley said, is a range of 50,000 to 100,000 square foot in an already high demand market.
Executives were asked to rank community services on their quality, which resulted in fire/police/ambulance as the highest, followed by chamber of commerce and community amenities as the top three. The lowest ranking community service was public transportation. The second-lowest was highways, local streets and roads, followed by housing and childcare.
Usually they count on property tax assessment as the service that will rank the lowest, Staley said.
The ranking of community services helps Lakeshore Advantages look at what other employer needs can be improved in the area, Staley said.
“Really it’s up to us as an economic development organization partnering with education and local units of government to take those barriers and turn them into opportunities,” Staley said.
The full report can be found at lakeshoreadvantage.com.
— Contact reporter Kate Carlson at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @SentinelKate and @BizHolland.