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West Michigan seeks to ease talent constraints by attracting laid off workers from Dow

BY Tuesday, July 12, 2016 02:54pm

Dow Chemical Co.’s decision to shave 700 workers from its workforce in Midland may prove beneficial for West Michigan manufacturers struggling to fill their talent needs.

Economic development firms that make up the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) have enlisted the help of Grand Rapids-based Hello West Michigan and The Right Place Inc. to gather employer information for a portal connecting Michigan companies to those laid-off workers.

Midland-based Dow (NYSE: DOW) announced the layoffs at its Michigan operations as part of a larger effort to reduce the chemical manufacturer’s global employee base by 4 percent. The layoffs come as the company attempts to cut costs in the wake of its deal to acquire Dow Corning Corp., which closed in June.

While the initial goal for the portal is to retain worker in the Great Lakes Bay region, economic developers say it’s important to help unemployed workers quickly find new opportunities — perhaps in West Michigan or elsewhere in the state — especially since so many companies are desperate for talent.

“For our employers, there’s a constant need for great employees because our economy continues to grow,” said Cindy Brown, executive director of Hello West Michigan and vice president of talent initiatives at The Right Place. “We normally go outside the state to attract talent, but this is just a different situation. We want these individuals to stay, and why not talk to them about opportunities in West Michigan.”

For Dow, the deal is positioned to add $1 billion in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) for Dow, according to a statement. When the acquisition was first announced in December 2015, executives stated they planned to split the business into three separate public companies that would focus on either agriculture, material sciences or specialty products in nutrition and electronics.

The job cuts on the other side of the state come at a time when companies in West Michigan say they are struggling to find talent. Unemployment in Kent County has hovered between 3.3 percent and 2.9 percent from January 2016 to May 2016, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Businesses across Michigan tell us that the top obstacle they face is finding talent,” said MEDC CEO Steve Arwood in a statement to MiBiz. “It’s never easy to hear news about layoffs. But we know that Michigan is stronger with these talented employees, and we’re focused on helping them stay in our state.”

Stakeholders in the project are still gathering information from employers for the portal. The information gathering phase is expected to conclude by July 20, Brown said.

The Right Place sent an email to its investors informing them about the opportunity to use the portal to identify possible candidates.

“We just said, ‘Let’s get this out to as many employers here on the west side of the state,’” Brown said. “We wanted them to know that if they have needs, they can be a part of this portal.”

The portal is currently built and ready to accept information on the employees from Dow, a spokesperson for the MEDC told MiBiz in an email.

Editor's Note: This story was updated with comment from MEDC CEO Steve Arwood and other context. 

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