GR business concerns for 2018: Workers, parking

Businesses report they had difficulty finding workers in 2017

Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce
The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Workers are putting the final touches on the Brix, Wolverine Building Group’s apartment complex off Michigan Street NE in Grand Rapids. The $53 million project is another example of the city’s building boom — a boom hampered by a lack of skilled workers.

“Carpentry or steel or welding abilities,” Wolverine Building Group President Curt Mulder said, listing the jobs his company has difficulty filling. “We’ve really had to limit the work that we take on so we can continue to take on the customers that we have.”

Attracting and retaining workers was the No. 1 response the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce got in its annual survey of problems local businesses expect to face.

“Our members are confirming that we’re a fast-growing economy, and so some of the things that we are experiencing come along with that economic growth that we’re experiencing here in West Michigan,” said Rick Baker, the president and CEO of the Chamber.

According to the survey, 85 percent of businesses hired new employees or added jobs in in 2017, up 8 percent from 2016. Eighty percent reported difficulty finding workers.

“Manufacturing to hospitality, business services. Everyone is experiencing the same thing,” Baker said.

Chamber officials say that along with relying on existing job training and attraction programs, they’re also creating new outreach efforts focusing on neighborhoods where unemployment remains a problem.

“There’s a disconnect there that we need to address as a community to make sure that everyone’s feeling like they’re a part of this economic growth and this economic success,” Baker said.

Parking, specifically for downtown workers who need access to their vehicles during the work day, and mobility moved up from a top-five to a top-three priority in this year’s survey.

The ongoing debate between the Chamber and city leaders over short-term parking solutions appears to be thawing, with talk of putting up a new ramp next to the downtown library. The Chamber conducted a parking census, looking at the more holistic, long-term approaches to solving the problem favored by city hall.

“So it’s just not a parking ramp, but is there another approach to better utilize the assets we already have,” Baker said.

An emerging issue revealed by the survey is how to get those much-needed workers from home to work.

“We need to work with the Rapid (bus service) board to make sure the routes are easy for people to navigate, that people can get to work in a timely fashion,” Baker said.

Six hundred fifty Chamber members participated in this year’s survey. Two-thirds of those companies are small or midsized.