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While talent development and some legislative reforms may prove to be challenges, West Michigan chambers of commerce executives feel confident looking ahead to 2015 as they project increased business investment in their individual communities.

As companies across the country and in West Michigan pay close attention to talent issues, they’ve largely looked to community colleges as the go-to source for skilled workers. However, attracting students to technical training programs and sourcing funding for those programs continue to be issues for those schools. During his tenure, Grand Rapids Community College President Steven Ender has worked to grow the college’s programs and curriculum to meet the needs of employers in West Michigan. He spoke with MiBiz about the role community colleges will play in training workers in the coming year.

In looking ahead to 2015, President Tom Haas points to Grand Valley State University’s annual $730 million economic impact on West Michigan and notes that 90 percent of its graduates are employed or enrolled in graduate school. Of those, 86 percent are working in West Michigan, which further illustrates GVSU’s role in the West Michigan economy.

As West Michigan’s economy continues to improve and evolve, that’s led to a host of infrastructure investments at colleges and universities across the region.

Economic development agencies are going to have their hands full going into the new year.

Honigman attorney Pat Lennon projects a period of solid growth for development in the region as transactions continue to heat up. However, he warns that developers must be mindful of how they go about financing deals.

Heightened construction and manufacturing activity amid falling commodity prices have Paul Isely optimistic about the overall economy’s performance next year. However, the chair of the economics department at Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business says the ever-present talent shortage, international events and the long recovery have left him wondering when the next downturn will occur. He spoke with MiBiz about those opportunities and some headwinds the state and national economies face in 2015.

George Erickcek predicts continued strong employment growth in West Michigan for 2015, led by manufacturing and construction jobs, before an easing the following year. The senior regional analyst with the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Erickcek projects overall employment growth of 3.2 percent next year. He projects goods-producing jobs alone to grow by 4.8 percent across a four-county region of the Grand Rapids area that includes Kent, Ionia, Barry and Newaygo counties, driven by continued strong automotive and truck production that will keep suppliers busy. In 2014, the region’s economy grew by what Erickcek calls a “truly phenomenal” rate of 3.8 percent, led by a 5.8 percent gain in goods-producing jobs and 3.4 percent growth in service jobs. He spoke with MiBiz about the drivers for growth and the potential headwinds on the horizon for 2015.

Forecasters generally see improved economic performance for both the U.S. and Michigan in 2015, further driving down unemployment rates.

Interest rates in 2015 will likely begin moving up from their historic low levels, although they should still remain relatively low, economists say.

Increased activity in 2014 sets the stage for more bank M&A in 2015.

The seller’s market that prevailed throughout 2014 should remain in 2015, providing business owners with a good opportunity to find the right buyer and to get a good price for their companies.

Some members of The Employers’ Association, a nonprofit training and human resources organization, believe West Michigan’s growing economy could be teetering on the edge, said David Smith, the organization’s president and CEO. Smith spoke with MiBiz about where wages and hiring are headed for 2015.

Chemical Financial Corp. Chairman, President and CEO David Ramaker expects that 2015 will bring even better economic conditions to Michigan, as well as more bank consolidation. The Midland-based Chemical Financial has been a player in the consolidation trend of the last year, buying Northwestern Bancorp Inc. in Traverse City this fall and then signing a deal to acquire Monarch Community Bank in Coldwater that will close in the first quarter of 2015. In a conversation with MiBiz, Ramaker said Chemical Financial intends to remain active in seeking deals in 2015.

There’s little doubt that advances in technology will continue to drive the economy forward. As technology’s role in the market develops, software in particular will be the key to driving product differentiation, global competitiveness and market share, said Carl Erickson, president of Grand Rapids-based Atomic Object. As his software design and development consultancy plans to close this year with sales of $8.5 million, Erickson spoke with MiBiz on his outlook for the technology and software industry in 2015.

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