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Eagle Alloy, Inc. – Part of the Eagle Group of companies - Muskegon, Michigan

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Muskegon Area First: Helping Local Businesses Flourish

The Culinary Institute of Michigan - Baker College's world-class caliber culinary learning environment


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Leading producer of complex investment-cast turbine components for the aerospace and industrial gas turbine industries

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First AMI class graduates Thursday, March 7

 Muskegon Area First president: First class of Advanced Manufacturing Institute graduating tomorrow is an economic development tool


MUSKEGON, MI – Economic development official Ed Garner hopes a new training program will help sell outside companies on the potential of the Muskegon-area workforce.

Ed_Garner.jpgEd Garner 

Twelve students graduate Thursday, March 7, from the Advanced Manufacturing Institute, a new program that gives students a condensed introduction to working in modern factories.

For the president of Muskegon Area First, it’s a tool for convincing outside companies they could find good employees in the area and easily train them.

“They want to know about your workforce,” he said. “Workforce development and economic development (are) becoming a little bit more hand in hand, now.”

The Advanced Manufacturing Institute is a partnership between Muskegon Community College, the economic development group Muskegon Area First and Michigan Works of Muskegon and Oceana counties.

Area businesses sent students to the class to be introduced into things like reading blueprints, programming logic-controlled devices and logging quality control statistics.

“This program was developed to quickly bring someone up to speed in the manufacturing environment,” said Dan Rinsema-Sybenga, director of business and industry training at Muskegon Community College. 

The program was based on the model of a similar program in Kalamazoo. The 96-hour class started meeting in January and after meeting for eight weeks has been regarded as a success by its organizers. 

A second session is scheduled to begin in early September. Garner said the program could eventually be expanded to include in-depth courses geared for specific jobs.

“There could be other training programs that could be developed under the Advanced Manufacturing Institute umbrella,” he said.

Companies paid $1,500 each to sponsor employees in the training program. Most companies sent their own new employees for the training, although Sun Chemical, sponsored two students who are looking for work through Michigan Works.

Garner said companies can do on-the-job training of employees themselves, but the class is a way for them to pool their resources. He’s not sure if there will be funding in the future to pay for job-seekers to attend the program.

“We do solicit contributions for the program,” he said. “There’s not a lot of money at the state level for training programs.” 

It's becoming harder for manufacturers to find young workers who are familiar with aspects of industrial work, Garner said.  

"Normally, you won't come out with some of these skills out of high school," he said. 

Rinsema-Sybenga said part of the problem are stricter curriculum requirements that schools have to meet.

"The trend at the K-12 level (is that) there's less room for vocational training," he said.

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West Michigan's industrial growth was 'nicely up' in February, economist says


West Michigan's industrial growth was 'nicely up' in February, economist says

Brian Long.jpgBrian G. Long 
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – West Michigan’s industrial sector was “nicely up” during February, according to the latest survey by economist Brian Long, director of supply chain management research at Grand Valley State University.

“Both December and January were flat, but as we rolled into February, things started to pick up,” said Long, who conductsmonthly surveys of purchasing managers at West Michigan industrial companies.

“Just like last month, several large employers are very optimistic about 2013,” said Long. “As far as this month’s survey goes, all of this is good news.

Long’s index of new orders was up 16 points while his production index was up 21 points over January. His employment index was up 22 points.

“Looking at individual industrial groups, the auto parts suppliers remain positive and some are busier due to production schedules being revised upward,” Long said. While capital equipment firms were “widely mixed,” he said.

“Finally, the office furniture firms are still holding their own, but the market shows signs of topping out or stabilizing at the current levels,” Long said.

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Muskegon County's growth in economic activity some of the best in Michigan for 2011

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MUSKEGON, MI – That good vibe some are feeling in the Muskegon-area economy of late was backed up late last week with the federal government’s release of gross domestic product numbers for metro areas.

MuskegonAerialSunrise.jpgA new day dawns on Muskegon Lake with a spectacular sunrise over Muskegon Lake and the harbor entrance. 

Real GDP change from 2010 to 2011 was a healthy 2.82 percent for Muskegon County, according to the 2011 GDP data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Muskegon County sat third among 14 metro areas in Michigan for GDP growth for 2011. Only Detroit at a 3.49 percent increase and Ottawa County at a 4.23 percent hike were higher than Muskegon County.

West Michigan was shown to be on the upswing because, along with state-leading growth in Ottawa County, the Grand Rapids-Wyoming metro area was fourth in the state with a 2.33 percent GDP growth.

“I think this bodes well for our community and the diversity we have in our economy,” said Ed Garner, president of Muskegon Area First, the local economic development agency. “We are seeing most sectors of our economy are up except for the defense industry.”

GDPgraph.jpgView full size 

Not all Michigan communities are doing as well in economic activity as West Michigan. Kalamazoo, Lansing, Bay City, Monroe, Battle Creek and Benton Harbor actually lost GDP in 2011. GDP is the monetary value of all goods and services produced within, in this case, the federal metropolitan statistical areas, including both public and private consumption, according to federal economic analysts.

“The growth is mixed across metro areas in Michigan and I would say that most of all, the diversity of the industry mix of the local economies is going to be a key determinant into whether or not the metro area is going to grow or see declines in real GDP,” federal economist Sharon Panek told MLive with the release of the latest statistics.

Garner said Muskegon’s economy has diversified nicely over the past few decades going from an economy relying on heavy industry to one that now shows a balance across a half dozen sectors.

Muskegon County’s economic activity equally is being generated through health care, manufacturing, leisure/hospitality, retail and business services, Garner said. In the all-important manufacturing sector, Muskegon continues to be led by metal fabrication but also has strong automotive parts, aerospace and furniture sector companies.

Construction, trade and information technology sectors grew the largest in 2011 with government showing the steepest decline, according to the federal analysis.

“We are keeping things in a balance,” Garner said. “People are becoming more optimistic about our local economy.”

Muskegon Area First has been working on a projects list of more than 20 developments in the Muskegon-area in the past few months, Garner said. Those developments range from residential projects in downtown Muskegon to industrial expansions of existing companies and new retail investments near The Lakes Mall, he said.

“Companies continue to keep adding investment, but we have not seen a ton of jobs for those projects,” Garner said.

As Muskegon’s economy has reached back to more activity prior to the Great Recession, jobs have not followed the same path.

Muskegon County’s economy was valued at $4.52 billion in 2008 as the recession took hold. The local GDP dipped to $4.3 billion in 2009 before shooting up to $4.82 billion by 2011, according to the government’s latest data.

Job creation has not been as fortunate. Muskegon County is down about 1,000 jobs since the beginning of the recession: 73,756 at the end of 2012 vs. 74,738 at the end of 2008.

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Want a good paying job in Muskegon? Simply get a college degree, labor statistics show

By Dave Alexander | This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
on January 26, 2013 at 7:23 AM

MUSKEGON, MI – Muskegon Heights High School students who were guests at a Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce breakfast Friday received a clear message on their prospects for the future.
George Erickcek and Michael Finney forecast the economic future of Muskegon
Enlarge George Erickcek gives a presentation on the forecast of Muskegon's economic future in 2013 on Friday, January 25, 2013 at the Holiday Inn Muskegon Harbor as part of the annual Business for Breakfast hosted by the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce. George Erickcek and Michael Finney forecast the economic future of Muskegon gallery (8 photos)
Regional labor economist George Erickcek’s analysis showed the importance of finishing school and getting a college degree – a graduate level degree if possible.

Higher education is the surest way to have a job and make a comfortable income in Muskegon County, Erickcek’s economic analysis showed Friday morning at the Business for Breakfast event of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce.

Erickcek looked at the effect of educational attainment on unemployment and income with some graphs that showed a blunt truth. It is a truth that business and community leaders hope all high school students in Muskegon County contemplate as they chart their futures.

The age-old message was driven home to the chamber audience at the Holiday Inn Muskegon Harbor: Education pays and higher education pays higher.

From 2011 statistics, those in Muskegon County without a high school education had a 52 percent unemployment rate compared to 17 percent for high school graduates, 14 percent for those with some college, 10 percent for those with an associate’s degree and 5 percent for those with bachelor’s and graduate degrees.

“And those with a 52 percent unemployment rate with less than a high school education are those kids that don’t move,” said Erickcek, of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. “They are the ones that are staying here. That’s scary.”

Likewise, total income for those in Muskegon County with a graduate degree averages more than $70,000 a year. Bachelor’s degree holders earn about $34,000, associate degree holder $28,000, those with some college $21,000, high school graduates $18,000 and high school dropouts $10,000 a year, according to Erickcek’s analysis.

A look at the educational requirements of Muskegon-area job postings is much different than the educational attainment of those in the Muskegon County job market. For example, some 41 percent of the workforce has some college education less than a bachelor’s degree but only 8 percent of the job postings are calling for such “middle-skilled” workers.

Likewise, 35 percent of the job postings in the Muskegon area call for a bachelor’s degree while only 15 percent of the current work force has a four-year college degree. Erickcek suggests that Muskegon County, like much of Michigan and many places in the United States, has a skills gap that points to a need to prepare young people for the jobs of the future and to retrain old workers for new careers.

Erickcek was at the Friday chamber breakfast to give his 2013 economic forecast for Muskegon County. Also speaking to the business group was Michael Finney, president of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

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MEDC President Michael Finney touts Michigan as being business-friendly at Muskegon Chamber breakfast

By Stephen Kloosterman | This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
on January 25, 2013 at 1:43 PM, updated January 25, 2013 at 3:06 PM


MUSKEGON, MI -- Even as he acknowledged it was too soon to tell if recent controversial reforms were working, Michigan Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Michael A. Finney said the state has improved its climate as a business-friendly state.

Finney spoke Friday morning, Jan. 25 to about 400 people at the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce’s Business for Breakfast event at the Holiday Inn in downtown Muskegon.

In January 2011, when Governor Rick Snyder took office and asked Finney to come to the MEDC, Michigan was ranked as 49 out of 50 states for its business-friendly climate, he said.

“We now have climbed to number 12 overall,” he said. “We’re feeling pretty good about where we are.”

MEDC efforts in recent months have been overshadowed by controversial efforts to help businesses in the state, including right-to-work legislation that helps businesses bypass unions and the end of the personal property tax that hit businesses’ expensive equipment but helped fund municipalities.

RELATED: George Erickcek: Muskegon County job picture for 2013-14 first positive forecast since recession

“It’s a little too early to measure the impact of those,” he said. “But we are getting very positive messaging from the businesses we’re talking to.”

Finney outlined other efforts, programs of the MEDC that seem to be having an effect.

MEDC has $150 million available for grants to all kinds of businesses, and also posts collateral for business loans at roughly the rate of one a day, he said. In Detroit, MEDC has also partnered with an international crowd-sourcing platform, Kiva, to bring small loans of a few thousand dollars to individuals with small business projects that traditional banks wouldn’t look at.

Through its Pure Michigan Business Connect program, MEDC has also solicited commitments from companies to do business with Michigan companies, including hundreds of millions of dollars in commitments from Consumers Energy and DTE Energy.

George Erickcek and Michael Finney forecast the economic future of Muskegon
Enlarge George Erickcek gives a presentation on the forecast of Muskegon's economic future in 2013 on Friday, January 25, 2013 at the Holiday Inn Muskegon Harbor as part of the annual Business for Breakfast hosted by the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce. George Erickcek and Michael Finney forecast the economic future of Muskegon gallery (8 photos)

Asked about how his organization valued lake access points like Muskegon’s deep water port, Finney said: “We think that the Great Lakes represent one of the significant transportation, logistics resources that we have.” He said the Great Lakes would be a “significant part” of a shipping and logistics strategy report headed for the governor’s desk in the next 30 days.


As the question-and-answer session continued, Whitehall Mayor Pro Tem Steve Sikkenga asked Finney about how funds lost by the personal property tax would be replaced. More than 40 percent of Whitehall’s revenue comes from the tax.

“Because it’s such a large percentage of our budget, even an 80 percent replacement – which they haven’t done by the way – would mean a large gap,” Sikkenga said later. He said he could see both sides though – his employer may do more business as a result of the tax being gone.

Finney told Sikkenga he wasn’t involved in the legislative process to replace the funds, and advised him to contact his representatives.

Asked about the right-to-work legislation, he said it was too early to tell how it would affect the economy, but the word from the business executives that select new location sites, and at least one of their trade publications, was that Michigan had become a better destination.

“They’re saying this has got Michigan on the radar screen,” he said.


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