Chamber dinner recognizes business, individuals
By BETH ALTENA
With 125 years of service and ten here with a Rockford location, United Bank was awarded the Business of Distinction award on Friday, January 25. Manager of Rockford’s branch, Nancy Martin, was also recognized personally for her unending participation in chamber events and projects.
The honor was part of an evening of food, spoofs and thanks that took place at the American Legion Rockford Post. Dinner included a variety of hors d’oeuvres, including wings by Pizza Hut, mini Reuben rolls by the Corner Bar, and beef satat, hot spinach artichoke dip and spring rolls by Grill One Eleven. Dinner included salad by Twisted Vine and a selection of foods from Herman’s Boy, the SCORE and Honeycreek Inn.
The evening’s speaker was Tim Mroz, Vice President of Marketing and Communication of The Right Place. The Right Place is a regional non-profit economic development organization with a mission to promote wealth creation and economic growth in the areas of quality employment, productivity and innovation in West Michigan by developing jobs through leading business retention, expansion and attraction efforts.
Mroz joked that he must have “made the big time” because a friend of his saw his picture in the Rockford Squire. He said the friend advised him if he had any difficulty in his presentation, be sure to end it by saying “Go Rams!” and he will be fine.
West Michigan is not sputtering, treading water or stagnant in job growth, Mroz said. He said the Grand Rapids area is actually ranked eighth in the country as far as top 100 businesses and falls at 13th in employment. Today employment is 4.9 percent less than it was in 2009. In terms of output of goods and services this area is twelfth and has seen a 12.4 percent increase. Overall job growth is up over 30 years with 35,000 jobs created since 2009.
Where is this growth coming from? Mroz said administration and support services, accounts payables, sales staff and sales administration is all in growth mode. “It makes sense because when things get tough, those jobs are the first to go,” he said. “The good news is that these jobs are diversified. They are in health care, manufacturing, administration, transportation and food processing industries.”
No one has a crystal ball, Mroz said, but based on 28 years in West Michigan and his experience, smart manufacturing is 27 percent of the gross domestic product in the United States. Although those jobs are not what they used to be, they are still the largest single industry in West Michigan, he said. He also said the life science industry is “no big surprise.” Just locally this area has major facilities of Spectrum Health, Priority Health, Metro Health and St. Mary’s. Each employs thousands and thousands of people.
“Health care is not just the hospital,” he stated. “It is pharmaceutical, it’s research, it is the Michigan State University school, and it is medical devices.” He gave the example of an old company that used to make bread slicers that has adapted to make bacteria free surgical wrapping. Food processing is another big player, an $8.3 billion dollar industry as food and agriculture.
Great news is the new West Michigan Sports Complex. “Congratulation on this, it is going to be a huge, huge, huge benefit to you,” he stated. He said the business community will see many, many more minivans in coming years as hundreds of thousands of visitors come to town.
Mroz also gave words of warning and said The Right Place travels all over the world in their pursuit of industry to woo West Michigan. It has sent people to Italy, to Sweden, to countries all over to bring industry here. “You have no idea how good they look. Infrastructure is the cost of entry—roads, bridges. We are lagging behind.” He said roads with potholes, lack of competitive air travel, weak broad band coverage the fact that Muskegon is our only deep water port all deter industry from investing here—with good reason.
“If you build a big product and need a ship to move it, you’d better be worried.”
Mroz said another challenge is talent development. “In Rockford Public Schools your test scores are off the charts, but you are an anomaly [for West Michigan].” He said in Michigan only 30 percent of the citizens have a post-graduate education, compared to a nation-wide average of 40 percent and a 60 percentage in successful communities. He said as important as access to infrastructure, so is access to smart people. Instead of considering education a K-12 process, we need to consider it a K-16 process.
“Michigan on a whole is well on its path to pro-growth. Do we face challenges? Yes,” Mroz said. “The business vigor will continue.” Mroz said he was going to do on Monday what many attendees will do on Saturday—get up and go to work. “Keep growing and keep creating, that’s the key to success.”