West Michigan Businesses Weigh in on 2019 Policy Priorities: Pleased with Strong Business Climate; Talent and Health Care Top-of-Mind
Results from the annual Grand Rapids Chamber Government Affairs member survey show talent and health care costs as top of mind for West Michigan business headed into 2019.
Over 600 members contributed to this year’s survey with roughly three-fourths of respondents representing small or mid-sized businesses.
“This survey is a great snapshot of what matters most to the businesses driving our economy,” says Rick Baker, President and CEO of the Chamber. “Our Government Affairs team is charged with advancing member-driven legislative priorities and this data supports their pursuit of making West Michigan a prosperous region for all.”
A Regional Perspective
Looking at the data from a regional perspective, talent is the top concern across the board. In addition to Grand Rapids Chamber members, this year’s results also include feedback from members of the West Michigan Chamber Coalition (WMCC), a collaborative of regional organizations focused on policy that improves the area’s business climate. The WMCC consists of Michigan West Coast Chamber, Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber, Grand Rapids Chamber, Lakeshore Advantage, Chamber of Commerce Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg, and the Grandville-Jenison Chamber.
“Workforce development has been a priority for some time and this survey indicates we must step up our efforts to an even higher level in 2019,” says Cindy Larsen, President of the Muskegon Chamber of Commerce.
“We have undertaken considerable initiatives to track and learn from other regions we compete with nationally to ensure West Michigan continues to be a top choice for business investment and talent attraction,” says Jennifer Owens, President of Lakeshore Advantage.
Grand Rapids Chamber Top Issues
A talented workforce and health care costs retain their top positions in this year’s Grand Rapids Chamber survey. When asked to list the top challenges impacting business growth, availability of skilled labor took the top spot (37%) with the cost of health care coming in a close second (35%).
Despite concerns, 93 percent of members reported a favorable or very favorable perception of the West Michigan business climate. This marks a three percent decrease from 2018, yet hovers at the same percentage from the 2017 survey.
“Health care policy climbed the list this year, but it has long been a priority for our members,” says Andy Johnston, Vice President of Government Affairs. “This feedback is helpful as we work with our lawmakers on policy that emphasizes the important role of transparency and choice in the health care marketplace.”
Along with the lack of skilled labor, respondents placed talent-related issues, like general retention and diversity and inclusion, in the top five. “Talk to any business and it’s not long before the topic of talent availability, attraction and retention come up,” says Alexa Kramer, Public Policy Coordinator. “With this data we can make a compelling case before lawmakers on education and workforce development policies to support business growth.”
When asked what specific job titles are the most difficult to attract and retain, it is clear the talent crisis is being felt at all levels, from senior to entry level positions. Engineers ranked at the top of that list, with a wide range of careers following behind, including skilled labor, sales, technicians, drivers and construction workers.
Local – Mobility & Housing
Locally, businesses are concerned with parking and housing availability and affordability. When respondents were asked to identify mobility concerns for their business, 85 percent answered either employee commutes (46%) or parking availability (39%). When asked to rank how the locality should prioritize our investment in change that impacts mobility, over half of respondents answered that concentration should be placed on centrally-located parking structures for downtown employees.
For the first time, housing availability and affordability ranked in the top five issues affecting businesses. “For businesses to grow and attract the best and brightest to our area, we need sensible policies that promote housing supply and affordability. This issue coupled with mobility places a great strain on businesses and threatens our continued growth, and I look forward to continuing my work with our members and key stakeholders at the state and local level to improve outcomes for all,” says Joshua Lunger, Director of Government Affairs.