Stretch of bad weather hits local economy hard

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The winter weather in West Michigan over the past two weeks has likely cost the economy upwards of $100 million, a Grand Valley State University economics professor says.

Beginning in late January and continuing this week, there has been heavy snowfall, subzero cold and ice storms that knocked out power to a huge chunk of the region.

“The upfront effect economically is about $100 million, maybe $150 million,” Professor Paul Isely told 24 Hour News 8 Monday, hypothesizing based on Grand Rapids-area economic figures and the number of days the weather crippled travel and production.

Isely said some of the losses will be made up when employees return to work and the public gets back to its normal shopping and spending habits.

“Over time that $150 million gets whittled away, but it never goes to zero in the end,” Isely said.

The ice storms also left damage in their wake, bringing down power lines and tree limbs. Isely said the cost of that is softened because of the spending it spurs: fixes take money.

“That effect of the damage tends to be a changing of the hands,” Isely said. “It makes some people happy.”

Mike Veenstra, owner of Veenstra’s Garage in Grand Rapids, stopped shy of saying the wicked weather makes him happy, but he admitted it does bring in customers.

“The extremes of weather always bring out the worst in cars and so they tend to bring the best in business,” Veenstra said.

The crippling ice storm, however, slowed his gain. Both of Veenstra’s locations — one on East Fulton Street in Grand Rapids and one in Ada — lost power.

“All of a sudden everything goes black,” Veenstra said. “We look at each other and find our choicest words not to say.”

He said he’s not sure if the added business overcame the losses from closing due to the outages.

“It becomes an exercise in controlling chaos,” Veenstra said. “We never can plan disaster, right?”

Isely said the long duration of the severe winter weather decreases the likelihood that the economy will recoup its losses. Another significant snowstorm is in the forecast.

“When you start stretching out to a few weeks long, now something you were thinking about doing two weeks ago you might not get around to doing now, and so the effect starts to grow,” Isely said. “We have some types of things that are lost and never come back. … Events that didn’t happen, people who were going to go out to eat and now were unable to, the purchases that you were thinking about that you chose not to do in the end.”

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