What keeps you up at night? That’s one of several questions we asked more than 100 of the region’s executives and business owners. It’s our favorite question to ask CEOs and senior executives because it really cuts to the core of the weaknesses and threats they see looming on the horizon.
Here’s what is on their insomnia list this year: The federal government’s spending habit. Hyperpartisanship. The lack of leadership in Washington. Obamacare. Europe’s economy. The cost of technology. The rapidly escalating pace of change. The race for talent. The Mayan calendar. (OK, not really and besides if you’re reading this, that particular concern is moot.)
It’s worth noting that the majority of local executives’ concerns have nothing to do with what goes on inside the four walls of their own businesses. Frankly, most executives we spoke with are cautiously optimistic about 2013, even with fiscal cliffs, rising employee health care costs and the constantly moving playing field that is our nation’s economy.
All of these challenges, of course, are part of the sport of business. You strategize, budget, train and execute your plan. As in sport, you control what you can control, and the outcome will take care of itself. That even-keel mentality seems doubly apparent in West Michigan, where businesses rarely plan on hockey-stick growth in good times, but seldom end up in liquidation during the bad times. We are a fiscally conservative region, after all.
The philosophy is serving West Michigan well during the recovery. Among the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S., the Grand Rapids metro area’s economic recovery ranked 8th overall, according to the Brookings Institute. And the region’s employers have created 5,000 net new jobs since the recession ended, and another 5,000 are expected in 2013, according to senior analyst George Erickcek of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. He traces West Michigan’s relatively strong rebound to our long-term strength in manufacturing and predicts it will drive our recovery and growth for the next few years.
Confidence in the recovery is certainly being helped by something that is not on the local executives’ insomnia list: capital. That’s because so many companies in the region have either built healthy balance sheets or right-sized their businesses coming out of the recession. Banks are lending again – as are credit unions – and there is an increasing amount of private equity and venture capital coming into the marketplace. All of that is helping drive organic growth as well as increasing M&A activity, especially among small and middle-market firms looking to add market share, capacity and capabilities.
As with last year, talent concerns seem to be on the minds of just about everyone in the business community – from manufacturers to technology firms and even Gov. Rick Snyder, who sat down with MiBiz just before we went to press. Snyder summed up the talent concern neatly in the interview: “If you go to MiTalent.org, it shows we have over 50,000 open jobs [in Michigan]. We could drop our unemployment rate by a couple of percentage points just by filling those jobs, and they’re good jobs.”
Snyder, like so many of the executives we interviewed, believes that we’re on the right track in Michigan. They’re up for facing the challenges confronting their businesses, their industries and the region. To find out how, read on by CLICKING HERE.