Michigan’s Elected Officials Can Learn From West Michigan’s Phenomenal Growth

The city of Grand Rapids, Kent County and other parts of West Michigan were some of the fastest growing areas in our state during the last decade. From 2010-2020, Kent County’s population alone increased by about 1,000 residents or more every year, according to various estimates.

Between 2010 and 2020, the population of Kent County increased by 10,182 (5.4%), which is a significantly greater rate of increase than the overall state of Michigan (2.0%) during the same time, according to a 2022 research study on housing commissioned by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

Governor Whitmer even created a population council to make recommendations to help stop the outflow of people to other states such as Florida, Texas or Indiana. The council’s recommendations were unfortunately disappointing.

So why is the West Michigan region growing more rapidly than other parts of the state?

West Michigan’s Economic Picture

The region has a broad range of employment sectors containing a unique combination of industries that require employees of varying skills and education levels, according to the chamber’s research study. Essentially, there’s a job available for just about anyone, which helps the region sustain its population levels.

This type of diversity also can help the region weather bad economic times. For example, during the height of the pandemic in 2020, the unemployment rate for the state of Michigan was 10%, but Kent County’s jobless rate was 8%, according to the study.

West Michigan’s key employment sectors include health sciences, manufacturing, higher education and an expanding technology sector. The largest labor sector in Grand Rapids is health care and social assistance, which is considered a relatively stable industry even during times of economic decline, according to the study. People who have gratifying jobs tend to stay where they are, and the health sector in particular can be especially rewarding.

The Intangibles

Public-private partnerships in the region have undoubtedly improved the quality of life in West Michigan and contributed to a vibrant downtown Grand Rapids that people want to experience.

The Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place Convention Center, and Grand Rapids Downtown Market are just some of the projects that started as public-private partnerships. These types of partnerships are key to a vibrant future for any region and especially contribute to West Michigan’s appeal.

The region’s relatively low cost of living compared to other regions of the state, its trails and waterways and close proximity to Lake Michigan, and its arts and culture scene also contribute to an excellent quality of life that attracts people.

What Can Elected Officials Do?

Let’s face it – our government cannot create economic opportunity. But it can move out of the way to give economic opportunity a chance to flourish. The WMPF Board of Directors recently reviewed policies that are creating explosive economic expansion in the top growing states and communities around the country.

They found some important common denominators. For example, the top five fastest growing states – Florida, Idaho, South Carolina, Texas and South Dakota – are all Right-to-work states. Three of the top five states also have no income tax.

Michigan must also remove barriers to attract more large-scale economic development projects, especially after the Great Lakes State recently lost out to Tennessee for Ford’s new electric vehicle and battery mega-site that will employ 6,000 new workers. Tennessee is a RTW state, has no income tax and offers Education Savings Accounts to its students.

Although our government can’t create jobs, our elected officials should approve policy initiatives that allow the next generation of entrepreneurs and business owners to do so. Please contact your state representatives and senators and tell them to approve a pro-jobs platform to help our entire state grow and prosper.