Published in Breaking News

Advanced manufacturing jobs continue to grow in Grand Rapids, albeit slower

BY Wednesday, August 10, 2016 08:00pm

Advanced industries continue to drive employment growth in Grand Rapids in the face of talent constraints.

That’s according to a report by the Brookings Institution that ranks the Grand Rapids metropolitan area 14th out of 250 for job growth in advanced industries between 2013 and 2015.

Companies in the Grand Rapids metropolitan statistical area (MSA) — which includes Barry, Kent, Montcalm and Ottawa counties — grew employment in advanced industries by 5.5 percent, more than double the national average of approximately 2.5 percent, according to the report.

Overall, more than 52,000 full-time workers were employed in advanced industries in 2015, meaning that advanced industries account for nearly 10 percent of all jobs in the region.

For Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing and communications at The Right Place Inc., the report echoes West Michigan’s status as a region with a diverse manufacturing base.

“One of the stories that we continue to tell (about) why our manufacturing community is so different is the fact that our manufacturing base is so diversified compared to others across the country,” Mroz said.

As an example of the region’s diversified industry, Mroz points to data that show 13 of the top advanced industries in the Grand Rapids metro area employ more than 1,000 workers each.

“That is quantifiable support of how diversified our industry is and we’re not just in motor vehicle parts or plastics,” he said.

Motor vehicle parts, precision instruments and general purpose machinery comprised the top three advanced industries in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area, according to the report.

The Brookings report defines advanced industries as sectors that spend more than $450 per worker on research and development and that have more than 20 percent of their workforce in “STEM-intensive” occupations. The report includes manufacturing, energy and service sectors ranging from aerospace and automotive manufacturing to computer system design and telecommunications.

Despite the overall positivity surrounding the report, advanced industry job growth between 2013 and 2015 pulled back slightly compared to the 7.5-percent growth rate from 2010 to 2013.

It’s likely that a constrained talent pool and reports of reduced automotive sales contributed to the drawdown in growth, Mroz said.

“I think we would all agree that the biggest throttle-limiting factor in advanced manufacturing is the availability of qualified labor,” Mroz said. “We’re seeing some record low unemployment numbers. We’re trying to add to the talent pool as much as we can but it’s not keeping up with the demand of the industry.”

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