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Monday, 15 July 2013 15:00

Advantage West Michigan: West Michigan's recovery: Why so fast?

Written by  Randy Thelen
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Randy Thelen Randy Thelen

The rapid pace of West Michigan’s economic recovery has been widely reported, but some questions still remain.

Recently, Grand Valley State University released a report that found the region’s unemployment to be 5.6 percent. They also discovered unemployment in the “Holland-Zeeland high productivity corridor” to be a jaw-dropping 2.6 percent. When compared with the statewide and national figures, 8.4 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively, our region has clearly enjoyed a fast recovery.

Which raises the question: Why has the regional economy responded so rapidly?

At Lakeshore Advantage, the economic development group focused on the Holland-Zeeland-Saugatuck area, we conduct a business expansion program where we meet with area companies seeking to find ways to support their growth. One unique aspect of our program is we conduct a formal survey gathering detailed business intelligence.

As one of over 600 economic development groups across North America using the Synchronist tool, we are able to capture real-time data and then benchmark our region’s performance. The data help us find answers to the “why so fast” question.

First, during the economic downturn, more of our companies continued to invest in R&D. Our findings show that 76 percent of area companies continued to invest in R&D, compared to only 51 percent of companies across the Midwest. The R&D investment paid dividends for our region: 90 percent of area companies have introduced new products/services/capabilities within the past five years, compared to 71 percent of companies across the Midwest.

There is tangible evidence to support these findings, too. The most recent example is within the office furniture industry, where our area companies once again dominated the NeoCon show in June. By all accounts, there was a clear shift to incorporating greater levels of technology into the office environment.

There are examples from other sectors too, including a new production line to make frozen entrees in bags at Request Foods and Holland Awning Group of Companies’ investment in the Flexi-Tank line of business. During the tough economic times of 2008-09, our companies continued to look ahead and invest accordingly.

Second, our regional companies serve the global marketplace. Today, 55 percent of area companies surveyed export their goods or services. This compares to only 41 percent of companies across the Midwest. Within the international sales data, we find that 32 percent of companies saw their international sales grow during the downturn, compared to 21 percent of companies nationwide.

The data show that West Michigan is an innovation hub serving the needs of the global economy. This is a powerful position, one that helps explain our robust, rapid economic recovery.

Read 3479 times Last modified on Friday, 19 July 2013 15:16

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