Solid job growth should continue across West Michigan through 2015, although some markets will fare far better than others, according to the latest outlook from the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
Across West Michigan’s six metropolitan markets, the organization forecasts job growth of 2.0 percent in 2014 and 2.1 percent in 2015. The Grand Rapids-Wyoming and Holland-Grand Haven markets should perform the best, said George Erickcek, senior regional analyst with the Kalamazoo-based Upjohn Institute.
The growth rates projected for 2014 and 2015 follow a 2.3-percent increase in employment across West Michigan in 2013 and rival growth patterns of more than a decade ago, prior to the Great Recession, he said.
“We believe the economic fundamentals are showing that we could be back to the growth plateau that we enjoyed about 10 years ago from 2003 to 2007,” Erickcek said.
The Upjohn Institute projects goods-producing companies across the region to increase employment by 2.0 percent this year and 2.1 percent next year, led by the auto industry that University of Michigan economists predict will grow from 15.5 million light vehicles sales in North America in 2013 to 16.0 million units in 2014 and 16.3 million in 2015.
Service-sector jobs — particularly professional business services, leisure and hospitality, and health care — will grow at a faster rate of 2.4 percent in both 2014 and 2015, the Upjohn Institute predicts. Government employment will hold stagnant or decline slightly.
The highest growth rates are projected for Kent and Ottawa counties, which are the home of large automotive suppliers that will drive manufacturing employment.
The Grand Rapids-Wyoming metro area will grow jobs by 2.6 percent in 2014 and 2.5 percent in 2015, and the Holland-Grand Haven area is forecast to increase employment 2.4 percent this year and 2.6 percent next year.
The latest quarterly surveys from Manpower Inc. also indicate strong job growth in the Grand Rapids-Wyoming area. Nearly one-quarter of the employers responding to Manpower’s survey said they planned to hire staff in the second quarter, which compares to 19 percent in the first quarter and 21 percent in the second quarter a year ago.
The Upjohn Institute outlook does show “pockets that are kind of being left behind” by the auto industry’s resurgence because they do not have the supply base, Erickcek said. Still, continued overall job growth remains the norm, although at a lesser rate than Kent and Ottawa counties will enjoy, he said.
Even with the employment growth, Erickcek cautions against expecting declines in the region’s unemployment rates. As jobs grow, so too will the labor force, potentially keeping the unemployment rate stagnant, he said.
“It’s going to be kind of strange,” Erickcek said.