Published in Economic Development

Talent, housing, infrastructure among top priorities in 2020 Grand Rapids Chamber survey

BY Sunday, January 12, 2020 05:00pm

Talent, housing and infrastructure topped the 2020 priority list for members of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

The need for qualified workers ranked as the top issue for respondents to an annual survey that helps to set the agenda for the Chamber’s public policy advocacy during the year. 

Andy Johnston, vice president of government affairs at the Grand Rapids Chamber COURTESY PHOTO

A vast majority of respondents, more than 94 percent, said they were happy with the region’s business climate.

Eight in 10 of the more than 400 survey respondents have a direct role in hiring at their company. More than 71 percent of them told the Chamber they had difficulty finding qualified job applicants from entry-level to executive positions in 2019.

“This survey reflects what we’ve been feeling. We have a healthy business community and also the growing pains that go along with it as our region continues to grow,” says Andy Johnston, vice president of government affairs at the Grand Rapids Chamber. “That puts pressure on the talent pool, infrastructure and housing supply.

“Policymakers should take note and action to address infrastructure and talent need.”

The “first order of business” for legislators in Lansing to address the issue this year is restoring funding for the state’s Going PRO workforce development program that’s been used by more than 200 West Michigan employers.

As MiBiz reported in December, West Michigan employers receive the largest share of Going PRO funds. West Michigan Works! distributed nearly $10 million to employers in Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Montcalm, Muskegon and Ottawa counties in 2019.

The $36.5 million legislators approved for Going PRO in the state’s 2020 fiscal year budget was among the 147 items Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed in October in a budget standoff with Republican lawmakers.

Johnston said he’s “encouraged by the discussions that are being had” on Going PRO and believes legislators could act this month or next to restore funding.

“There’s no opposition for it. It’s one of those good programs that got caught up,” he said. “The business community has done everything we can to remind people of the importance of it.”

Elsewhere in the survey’s results, housing supply and affordability moved into the top five issues for members, ranking third for 2020.

“More and more employers are feeling the strain of the tight housing market and the impact it has on talent attraction and retention,” said Josh Lunger, senior director of government affairs at the Grand Rapids Chamber.

The Chamber is “committed to advancing policies that promote a healthier housing market, create more housing supply and positively impact affordability,” and has been involved in a housing needs assessment in Grand Rapids and Kent County and will examine the market area, economic characteristics and trends, and housing stock inventory and market conditions.

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