GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Job growth of 0.8% in metro Grand Rapids for 2011 may not sound like much, but as the man who is forecasting that growth notes, "it's better than we've seen for quite some time."
The metro area -- Kent, Barry, Ionia and Newaygo counties -- saw an estimated 0.6% drop in jobs in 2010, said George Erickcek of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research estimates.
In addition to the 0.8% job growth in 2011, Erickcek's forecast calls for 1.1% growth in 2012. The forecast, dubbed "a long and winding road to recovery," was presented Wednesday at an event hosted by economic development group The Right Place.
He calls the growth "moderate."
"We are turning the corner," Erickcek told 24 Hour News 8. "There will be job growth according to our forecast. The bad news is that the growth is going to be painfully slow. It's still going to be a challenge finding employment opportunities."
One potential reason for that painful growth is greater productivity forced by a global economy, he said. In other words, as the economic activity returns, employers may be expecting their existing workers to do more instead of hiring more workers.
There is plenty of evidence of economic recovery in West Michigan -- even hiring -- according to Birgit Klohs, CEO of The Right Place.
The positive changes "may not be readily apparent to that person on the street," she said, but they are to her and her staff "who are working with these companies every day."
"We have not had a call or a visit or an appointment with a company in the last few months where somebody didn't say to us, 'We're hiring.' 'Our orders are up.' 'We're back on track,' " Klohs said.
Specifically, the forecast sees some growth in 2011 for manufacturing. Surveys show the furniture industry is expected to do well. And service jobs are expected to grow by 1.1% next year.
But Erickcek is expecting fewer jobs in construction and government employment is also expected to drop.
Metro Grand Rapids is doing a good job creating new jobs, according to the Erickcek's presentation. The problem has beeen when those new jobs are overshadowed by job losses elsewhere. Newly-created positions represented 6% of all the jobs in the area between January and September 2009, better than every single peer metro area the analyst compared.
"We see those jobs being created it's hard sometimes to quantify on it a daily basis and say, 'There's five jobs here and 10 jobs here,' but they do really add up and we see it with our companies," Klohs said.
Both Klohs and Erickcek did cite concerns over another key issue: education.
As one of the Upjohn analyst's slides put it, "the younger generation is less educated than earlier generations."
It's a problem across the country, not just in Grand Rapids, but Erickcek's report stated fewer 25- to 34-year-olds in the region had a bachelor's degree or higher than people ages 35 to 44. The same holds true for associate's degrees, he said.
That will hurt West Michigan and the United States as a whole in a globally-competitive economy. And Klohs pointed to one very real consequence of a lack of education and training.
An employer she spoke with Tuesday night said he's looking for 20 highly-skilled workers "and he can't find them here," Klohs said. "So he's going outside the area to look for those people and bring them here. Now that brings talent to the area but it would be nice if we could fill those jobs here."
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