Report: Weak Workforce, Inflation Could Hurt Southwest Michigan Economy | Local News

The number of employees needed to fill vacancies does not appear to be improving in Southwest Michigan.

According to a Kinexus Group report presented Wednesday, the Berrien, Cass and Van Buren tri-county area continued to lag 5,777 workers behind pre-pandemic workforce levels.

These declines in the labor force are larger than in the rest of the state and country, largely due to the older population in the tri-county area.

“This attrition, coupled with high inflation, could lead to medium to long-term economic damage,” the report said.

The four largest areas in southwest Michigan are all feeling the stretch.

On a three-year comparison, the manufacturing sector saw a 10% drop in its workforce from January 2019 to January 2022. Healthcare also saw a drop of more than 5% over the same period. Salaried employment in agriculture also fell by 11%.

Leisure and hospitality saw the smallest decline in the workforce from January 2019 to January 2022 at 1.5%, or about 100 fewer jobs.

The demand for new workers has not gone away, however. Job postings have increased by 78% since the start of the pandemic. The number of vacancies exceeded the number of unemployed by approximately 1,000 jobs.

“We think there are danger signs there,” said Al Pscholka, vice president of public relations and government affairs. “With high inflation, higher interest rates and labor shortages, we could see the economy slow down.”

Pscholka said high oil and fertilizer prices, driven in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, could have major impacts on food prices and availability.

Additionally, he said high gas costs could lead to a decline in tourism from Chicago, as those costs cause travelers to reconsider longer trips.

Services available

Michigan Works Berrien, Cass, Van Buren manager Lily Brewer said there is support for all the issues that keep people from getting jobs, whether it’s help with child care children, transportation, food, clothing, etc.

The agency continues to host virtual job fairs, she said, and plans to host an in-person resource and job fair in May.

Those in need can fill out a form on the homepage, and an agency representative will contact you within 24 hours.

Additionally, they secured a $2.8 million grant for skills training to increase business retention in Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties.

“Michigan Works can help address the challenges faced by people looking to re-engage the workforce,” Brewer said.