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Crystal Ball (54)

West Michigan executives share outlook for 2017

Written by | Tuesday, 27 December 2016 13:09 |

For the annual year-end Crystal Ball edition, MiBiz asked executives from around West Michigan to share their outlooks for 2017, both for their industry and their companies.

EDITORS’ NOTE: Uncertainty Ahead

Written by | Sunday, 25 December 2016 20:00 |

In speaking with hundreds of business executives over the last couple of months, we heard plenty of different phrases to describe their overall bullishness: All-time record year. Double-digit growth. Expansion. New markets. New products.

Economists expect Michigan to maintain economic growth in the coming year, albeit at a slower pace that will further tighten labor markets.

President-elect Donald Trump will enter office in January with an economy that experts say is stable and growing, but one that could probably do better.

The Legislature’s 2016 lame-duck session was marked by both bipartisan agreement on tough policy issues as well as contentious attempts to solve ongoing state problems that nonetheless split along party lines.

As they worry about talent and uncertainty, executives from a cross-section of industries voiced optimism in the pro-business policies pushed by President-elect Donald Trump. 

If you approach Republican U.S. Rep. Justin Amash with requests for favors for projects in Michigan’s Third Congressional District, he wants you to know that you’re likely wasting your time. As a staunch supporter of limited government and defender of civil liberties begins his fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Amash is more than happy with the economic growth happening in the district he represents. But that doesn’t mean he’s about to start earmarking federal dollars or doing one-off favors for the area’s business community. In an exclusive interview with MiBiz, Amash said his job is to defend the Constitution and fight for liberty for all citizens, a position he acknowledges could put him at odds with fellow Republicans and President-elect Donald Trump. 

As coal-fired power plants in West Michigan harbor towns along Lake Michigan get decommissioned, cities like Holland and Muskegon have worried they’ll lose out on federal dredging support, the allocation of which is based on meeting a tonnage threshold for commercial freight at each harbor. That’s why Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga from Michigan’s Second Congressional District was happy to get funds to continue dredging as part of the most recent federal funding initiative.

2016 wasn’t an easy year for Gov. Rick Snyder. But even with Democrats’ near-daily calls for his resignation because of the ongoing Flint water crisis, the businessman-turned-politician still maintains his trademark “relentlessly positive” attitude. With about two years left in his second term, Snyder told MiBiz he remains focused on skilled trades training and tackling issues related to the state’s beleaguered infrastructure. 

In wrapping up her first “whirlwind” year as mayor of Grand Rapids, Rosalynn Bliss aims to build off of the work she started as she looks ahead to 2017. In the new year, Bliss hopes to move the needle on initiatives related to affordable housing and addressing long-standing racial disparities in the city. Additionally, the mayor believes that 2017 will be the year where visible work commences on restoring the rapids to the Grand River. 

Moving into 2017, Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters plans to focus his efforts on cultivating Michigan as a hub for autonomous vehicle technology. For Peters, the state’s future hinges on growing Michigan’s ability to attract investment in autonomous technology. On the other hand, Peters worries that the president-elect’s hands-on economic development policies could leave behind small businesses in the state and elsewhere in the country. Peters spoke with MiBiz about his views on the year ahead and the challenges 2017 may bring.  

As Michigan’s senior U.S. Senator, Debbie Stabenow plans to continue focusing on issues pertaining to small businesses, manufacturing and agriculture. Going into 2017, Stabenow expects to work on legislation that would improve tax credits for small manufacturers, as well as prepare to draft the upcoming Farm Bill. Stabenow spoke with MiBiz about her priorities and outlook for the upcoming year. 

Even with the underlying uncertainty caused by the presidential election, West Michigan manufacturers remain generally optimistic about the year ahead. 

While some industry professionals have raised concerns over subprime lending, rising inventories, incentives and other trends pointing to a downturn in the automotive cycle, the industry should remain healthy in the coming years. That’s according to Mike Wall, director of automotive analysis at IHS Automotive in Grand Rapids, who forecasts North American light vehicle production to close at 17.8 million units this year. While 2017 production is projected to slide to 17.6 million units, he expects it will inch up to 18 million units in 2018 and peak at 18.7 million units in 2020 as new facilities in Mexico come online. Wall spoke with MiBiz about what automotive suppliers in West Michigan should expect in the new year. 

Gavin Brown, the executive director of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA), expects strong production of both commercial and military aircraft continuing into 2017. As demand for long-range aircraft like the Boeing 777 increases, large OEMs will be eying ways to cut costs through production. For West Michigan manufacturers, that presents an opportunity for companies that can adapt to the latest technology and work cost-cutting measures into production, Brown said. However, uncertainty over the trade policies for the incoming presidential administration could cause pain for companies such as Boeing, which plans to sell more aircraft to countries including Iran and Russia. Brown spoke with MiBiz regarding the opportunities and challenges for aerospace suppliers going into 2017. 

Ask manufacturing executives about their biggest challenges and they’ll most likely sum it up in one word: talent. As Michigan’s unemployment rate continues to shrink, manufacturers have struggled to attract and retain people, especially the in-demand skilled workers they need to run their highly automated plants. The Lansing-based Michigan Manufacturers Association has heeded its members’ call by partnering with the SME Education Foundation and the Manufacturing Institute on a new talent solution, said MMA President and CEO Chuck Hadden. SME’s Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education (PRIME) initiative offers customizable curricula, while the Institute’s “Dream It Do It” program provides a framework for manufacturers to communicate more effectively with educators. 

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