Words by Peter Daining
Unless you’ve had you’re head buried under a dune for the last couple of years, you already know the West Michigan economy is one of the most robust in the nation. The region has grown right along with its reputation for quality employees and pro-business policies. Here are a few key numbers showing how far West Michigan has come in recent years.
4.4 percent job growth
West Michigan had the best employment growth of any large region in the country last year, according to Headlight Data. While the entire U.S. saw growth of 1.7 percent in 2016, Grand Rapids and the surrounding area were at 4.4 percent. The next best were Orlando, Nashville, Charlotte, and Salt Lake City. Only West Michigan and Orlando were above 4 percent among the 53 metropolitan areas included in the survey. Headlight Data only counted areas with at least 1 million residents.
$81,468 home price increase
Since the housing market bottomed out in 2009, West Michigan’s housing prices have grown by leaps and bounds. The average home price in Grand Rapids increased by $81,468 between 2009 and 2016 from $108,047 to $189,515, according to the Michigan Realtors association. Along the West Michigan Lakeshore, home prices grew during that same time frame by $61,389. Statistics from Grand Rapids Area Realtors show the trend continues for the region. The organization showed another 9.1 percent increase from 2016 to 2017, going from $190,549 to $207,968.
3.6 unemployment rate
The region’s unemployment rate is at 3.6 percent as of September 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from the peak unemployment of 13.3 percent in the summer of 2009 during the Great Recession. West Michigan had its lowest unemployment since 1999 earlier this year in April when it was at 2.4 percent. In September, 552,985 people were employed in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area, which is 116,238 employees more than during the worst stretch of the recession in 2009. The national unemployment rate is currently a bit higher at 4.2 percent.
130 international Companies
The West Michigan area is home to 130 international companies, including household names such as LG from South Korea and Gerber from Switzerland. The list includes a whopping 54 German companies, mostly in the manufacturing sector. There are also 13 Canadian, 9 Japanese, and 6 Chinese companies here. Other countries represented on the list compiled by The Right Place are Singapore, Luxembourg, Ireland, Sweden, and The Netherlands.
93 percent more degrees
The number of educated West Michiganders is skyrocketing. Since 2000, the number of college-educated residents has jumped 93 percent, according to The Right Place. More than a quarter of the people who call West Michigan home have a bachelor’s degree or better, and 88 percent of the population has at least a high school diploma. The region sees more than 19,000 students graduate each year. The top fields are business, health, education, and science. Forbes magazine ranked Grand Rapids the 4th smartest city in the U.S. in a 2014 study. Grand Valley State University is the area’s largest university with more than 5,000 annual graduates.
25,600 Spectrum employees
There are a lot of reasons why business is booming in Michigan, and one of them is the medical sector. Spectrum Health is West Michigan’s largest employer of any kind with 25,600 employees. The company has grown exponentially since Blodgett and Butterworth merged in 1997. Since then, Spectrum has opened the Meijer Heart Center, helped bring a Michigan State University medical school to Grand Rapids, opened the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion, opened a four-story addition to Blodgett Hospital, and opened a new Rehab and Nursing Center. Plus, many smaller health institutions joined Spectrum. Other members of West Michigan’s health sector are Mercy Health with 6,200 employees, Metro Health with 2,400 employees, and Priority Health with 2,250 employees.
69,664 more residents
West Michigan has grown by 69,664 residents between 2010 and 2016. This includes 58,159 more people in the Grand Rapids-Holland metro area, 10,285 more in Kalamazoo, and 1,220 more in Muskegon. Of the new residents, more than 20,000 moved here from outside the region.