Grand Rapids economy continues to thrive

By Megan Webster | 10/4/17 9:05pm

GVL / Matt Read Opening Day Festivities in Downtown, Grand Rapids on Thursday, September 20th, 2017.

Grand Rapids has recently been named one of the United States’ fastest-growing economies by Forbes. With a 4.4 percent change in employment between 2015 and 2016 in the city, totaling in a labor force of 575,563, it’s no wonder that people are looking for work in the Grand Rapids area. 

Brian Long, director of supply management research for the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University, explained that Grand Rapids’ booming economy doesn’t come down to one factor. Feeding the economy, there’s the automotive industry; the furniture industry, which supplies 14 percent of the world’s office furniture; and cost efficiency within businesses. 

“I can’t come back and say that the city of Grand Rapids or county of Kent did something super fantastic and as a result, the employment improved," Long said. "It’s more of a case of a myriad of things that all came together."

Long said Grand Rapids’ automotive businesses have been strategic with whom they do business in order to stay afloat and thriving within today’s general economy.

“A lot of them made a conscious effort to say, ‘Hey, if we’re going to make a conscious effort to stay in business, we have to figure out how to do business with the Japanese or the Koreans and in some cases the Germans,'” Long said.

Another large contributor to the city's booming economy, Long said, is Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile. Even though the medical field has nothing to do with the automotive or furniture-making industries, it allows Grand Rapids to diversify its workforce while remaining strong when economies experience a downward turn. 

“Now, when I say diversification in Grand Rapids, immediately they will refer to the Medical Mile because the Medical Mile has nothing to do with the steel-furniture business or the automotive business,” Long said. “The other advantage of that particular industry is that, I don’t want to call it recession proof because when we do get a recession, they quit hiring, but they don’t lay off half of their staff. That’s a huge advantage.” 

Even though Grand Rapids’ economy could be considered a major success, there is one downfall that comes with a surplus of jobs within one city or county: housing deficits. Long explained that there simply aren't enough rental properties or housing to hold the amount of people who have jobs within Grand Rapids or Kent County. 

“It obviously means that with every one of those jobs, everyone needs an apartment or house, someplace to live,” Long said. “When it’s expanded that fast, the builders and the developers haven’t necessarily kept up with it all that much.”

Even though Grand Rapids has gotten to this point of economic success, it takes work to stay there. Long explained that in order to maintain this peak, the businesses of Grand Rapids are going to have to work on diversifying their customer base, more specifically within the automotive industry since sales have been down since the beginning of the year. 

“Right now, given that we are approaching some kind of a peak right here, is are we going to be able to maintain this peak because auto sales have generally been off since the beginning of the year,” Long said. “Not dramatically. In other words, we haven’t had a collapse in auto sales, but nonetheless, particular lines of cars are simply not selling well right now, and that has affected some of our firms of Grand Rapids.”

Long said recent GVSU and other college graduates should begin looking for jobs in their own backyard due to the success that Grand Rapids has experienced in terms of workforce and job openings.

“There are a lot of graduates that, again, are going to find that there is a lot of opportunity just in the greater Grand Rapids area right now,” Long said.

Christa Marzke, a 2015 GVSU graduate with a business degree, said she stayed in Grand Rapids after she graduated because of what the city has to offer in terms of diverse job opportunities and entertainment. 

“I love Grand Rapids,” Marzke said. “It’s increasingly becoming more popular. It’s not only the art and the beer industry that makes it a unique and fun city, but also with all the job opportunities available within different fields of work compared to other cities in Michigan. 

"There’s a lot that Grand Rapids can offer, and it’s been booming within the past couple of years.”

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