Seeing “points of light” in West Michigan economy after pandemic

Western Michigan economic development officials say they helped recruit or keep 953 jobs in the region in 2020. That’s when the region lost about 40,000 jobs in total.

The Right Place, Inc. released its annual update and forecast on Thursday. The economic development group says it has secured $ 105.6 million in new capital investment for the region this year. He highlighted Perrigo’s decision to locate its new North American headquarters in downtown Grand Rapids, a move that is expected to create 170 jobs downtown.

“You know we have unexpected challenges,” said Birgit Klohs, President and CEO of The Right Place, Inc. “But we also have points of light. And, as an economic developer, I am an optimist. I must be optimistic. “

Part of that optimism also comes from the initial rebound in Western Michigan’s economy since the spring. The unemployment rate in the Grand Rapids area hit 3.7% in October, close to 2019 levels.

Klohs says The Right Place shifted gears in the spring, helping administer grants to small businesses affected by the pandemic. The group says it has provided 4,700 “aids” to local businesses this year, up from around 2,000 in a typical year.

Despite some gains, the local economy has not recovered. About 43,000 fewer people were employed in the region in October compared to February, according to seasonally adjusted figures from the federal government.

And Jim Robey, a researcher at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, said job growth in the region may continue to be slow for the region as it recovers from the pandemic.

One of the many uncertainties is what will happen to workers once the current pandemic unemployment benefits run out at the end of the month.

“The cliff of benefits is a concern,” said Robey, while presenting his analysis of the economy of Grand Rapids at The Right Place event. “Will this be something that will bring people back to the job market, or will it be something that will affect consumption in the future, because people will lose their unemployment benefits?” “

Robey says that even though the local economy has improved rapidly since the spring, forecast models show the Grand Rapids area may not recover all of the jobs lost during the pandemic until 2023.

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