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Chamber Blog

West Michigan Business Weighs in on 2021 Priorities

Focused on Strong Recovery, Talent, and Healthcare

Grand Rapids, Michigan – Results of the 2021 West Michigan Business Advocacy Survey are in. The Chamber survey of more than 700 members shows COVID-19 business relief and recovery, a talented workforce, and healthcare affordability as the top three issues for West Michigan businesses in 2021.

“With vaccines and an end to the pandemic on the horizon, this is valuable input from our business community as we work to build a strong recovery,” said Rick Baker, President and & CEO of the Chamber. “The message is clear, create a business climate that supports small businesses and those impacted by public health restrictions as well as tackle barriers to business growth, like talent, to make West Michigan a prosperous region for all.”

In this year’s survey, over 70% of respondents said that our West Michigan business climate was either favorable or very favorable – a significant backtrack from last year’s 94% favorability and many preceding years in the upper 90’s. 78% of this year’s respondents represented small or mid-sized businesses.

“Public health measures and business restrictions put in place to beat the pandemic have certainly impacted this metric,” continued Baker.

“We are focused on working with local, regional, and state leaders to get this perception back on track. We must strive to be the best place to start and run a business in 2021.”

COVID-19 Recovery

It is no surprise that COVID-19 relief and recovery was at the top of the list for this year’s survey respondents. From the respondents who classified themselves as business owners or executives, over 44% of them revealed that revenue is down by more than 26% from this time last year.

Additionally, over 46% of these respondents need financial assistance to stay viable with 23% being at risk of closing under current conditions within the next 12 months.

“This information is concerning and shows a huge threat to our economy,” said Andy Johnston, Vice President of Government Affairs at the Grand Rapids Chamber. “These businesses support thousands of families and help make West Michigan a vibrant and attractive community. We are hopeful that these businesses can pull through but know they will need additional assistance to get through the winter.”

When it comes to top barriers preventing people from getting back to work, employee fear, consumer confidence and behavior, clear guidance on safe operations, and employee logistics such as transportation and childcare were of greatest concern.

Talent

Members once again ranked a talented workforce as a top priority they need to be addressed.

69% of respondents with a direct role in hiring said they hired and/or added new positions within the last 12 months. Of those, over 55% said they had difficulty finding qualified applicants. These numbers are substantially lower than last year’s numbers- 80% and 71% respectively – yet more aligned with our 2018 survey results.

“Policymakers should take note of this continued concern and how it impacts our COVID-19 recovery,” says Andy Johnston, Vice President of Government Affairs. “Supporting policies and programs to increase workforce participation and attract top talent are at the top of our to-do list.”

“A focus on growing existing proven talent programs, like the Going Pro Training Fund, must remain a top priority for Lansing,” continued Johnston.

What positions are the most difficult to hire and retain? Like past survey results, members said it’s everything from entry-level to executive-level positions, and everything in between. Nurses, software engineers, retail workers, IT, custodial services, sales, and skilled trade workers were all listed as difficult positions to fill. In response, members report enhancing recruitment effort, increasing wages, and upskilling current staff.

 Healthcare Affordability

Healthcare affordability returned to a top spot and lowered housing supply and affordability out of the top 3. Healthcare access and affordability have always been a priority for the Grand Rapids Chamber and coming up on the one-year anniversary of a global pandemic have put a spotlight on the cost burden to employers, lack of access to employees, and inequities in the system.

The Grand Rapids Chamber’s Government Affairs Annual Survey, coupled with our legislative priorities, is the foundation for our advocacy for member-driven policy and allows us to better inform the government of our business’s needs.

See the survey results here and to learn more about our team’s work within the top three issues – COVID-19 relief and recovery, talent, and healthcare – visit the Chamber website.

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About the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce leads the business community in creating a dynamic, top-of-mind West Michigan region. Together with over 2,500 member businesses (80% of which are small businesses with fewer than 50 employees), we work to expand the influence, access, and information required to actively encourage entrepreneurial growth and community leadership. We offer the connections, resources, and insights needed to develop strong leaders, engage a diverse workforce, foster an inclusive and welcoming community, and advance a vibrant business environment that nurtures economic prosperity for all. Learn more at www.grandrapids.org

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