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Sunday, 14 April 2013 22:00

A million reasons to be optimistic

Written by  Birgit Klohs
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Birgit Klohs

Growing West Michigan

By Birgit Klohs
President & CEO
The Right Place Inc.


In today’s data-driven business world, size matters. And thanks to newly released information from the Census Bureau, West Michigan experienced a growth spurt.

On March 14, the economic development game changed significantly for West Michigan. After a decade-long hiatus, West Michigan “magically” regained its status as a region of more than one million people as defined by the federal government.

Based on new data analysis, West Michigan expanded to a population of just more than 1 million people, ranking us 52nd among the 381 U.S. metropolitan statistical areas, or MSAs.

This U.S. Census Bureau announcement changed the boundaries of West Michigan’s MSA: two counties were removed (Newaygo and Ionia) and two counties were added (Montcalm and Ottawa).

So, why is this move significant? Because, in today’s world of global site selection and business development, data is king.

It’s hard to believe that all the great quality of life attributes of West Michigan (arts, entertainment, public/private collaboration) are overlooked, but it’s reality. The first several rounds of location selection for growing companies and entrepreneurs are often driven by data and analytics. Quality of life aspects are usually used later in the process when deciding in which community to locate.

Successful, growing companies and entrepreneurs have countless options when determining a location for their next expansion. However, one of the most common filters used is population size, and often it’s the MSA data that is used. Unfortunately, this is where West Michigan has lost out for the past decade.

In reality, West Michigan’s population has exceeded one million for over 15 years. However, the U.S. Census disagreed. In 2003, the U.S. Department of Commerce removed Allegan, Muskegon, and Ottawa Counties from the Grand Rapids-Wyoming MSA, thus dropping West Michigan’s MSA population from nearly 1.2 million to approximately 740,000 (at that time). This one data change put West Michigan at a disadvantage for a decade.

Like it or not, perceptions remain among businesses that communities with populations of less than one million have fewer assets, amenities, resources and access than those with more than one million. Fact or not, by setting a filter to remove all MSAs with less than one million people, West Michigan was regularly eliminated from potential company expansions. In these cases, West Michigan’s quality of life did not matter. Medical Mile, ArtPrize and Lake Michigan did not matter. Even our innovative workforce did not matter. Once the filter criterion was set, West Michigan was out of consideration.

Thankfully, as a result of the latest U.S. Census data, the federal government now acknowledges what we in West Michigan have known for years. We are a region of collaborative communities, not isolated municipalities. We are a region of counties and communities that share talent, businesses and other assets vital to economic growth. Grand Rapids cannot stand alone, but only as a collaborative group is West Michigan able to compete globally as an economic region.

It is the economic, workforce and commerce relationships among our West Michigan counties that drive long-term regional economic growth.

I fully expect this MSA change to open new doors of opportunity for economic growth and re-open doors that might have been shut because of the previous change. Our organization has already begun to reach out to the site selection and business relocation community to build awareness of this important change.

However, announcements and decisions like this do not alone create changes in perception. Nor can The Right Place accomplish this alone. West Michigan’s business leaders and professionals must continue to tell their customers, partners and industry colleagues the economic growth story of West Michigan. We look forward to working with you and our regional partners to market this newly defined West Michigan to the world.

Together, we will ensure that growing businesses across the U.S. and abroad see West Michigan is more than just a number.

 

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