Growing Business. Building Community.

It’s a Big Job to Grow Jobs

There’s been an increased focus in recent months on the Grand Traverse region’s job market – more specifically how to bring higher-paying jobs to the area. Communities across the country are on the hunt for companies large and small to bolster their employment ranks with good-paying jobs, the kind with career opportunities that put employees in positions to buy homes, provide for their families and build their futures. Our community is doing likewise.

But to get to where you want to be, it’s helpful to know where you’re at and where you’ve been. The region’s job market has changed – and improved – significantly since the Great Recession of 2008-09, and not in just the service-related employment sector. According to employment data from Networks Northwest spanning a 5-year period from 2011-2016, Grand Traverse County has experienced significant employment gains in oil and gas production (+43%), wholesale trade (+27%), health care/social assistance (+18% and the county’s largest employment sector), and transportation/warehousing (+27%).

Also encouraging is that two sectors hit hard by the recession – manufacturing and construction – saw significant rebounds over the past five years. Grand Traverse County’s construction workforce increased 16 percent, and the sector increased 13 percent across the five counties. Manufacturing jobs grew an impressive 21 percent (13 percent regionally). The banking and insurance field also displayed solid growth, with employment up 11 percent in the county and 12 percent across the region.  Not surprising, given the overall strength of the area’s tourism industry, is a 16 percent increase in the hotel/food service sector (+13% regionally).

These are decent trends in a glass-half-full view, but other statistics show room for improvement. Job growth is flatter in the retail sector, agriculture, entertainment/recreation and administrative support. Government jobs have also flat-lined. Some consider that a welcome trend, but the public sector has always been a source of solid jobs and careers in our region and it’s no longer a growth field.

Sectors that feature the good-paying jobs and careers are trending down locally. Management positions have dropped 13 percent in Grand Traverse County in the past five years, while professional/scientific/technology services are down 4 percent and jobs in the information field are down 2 percent. Those are among the smaller employment sectors of the region, so the percentages are deceiving. Nonetheless, there’s work to be done.

The answers to improving our local job base are neither singular nor simple.

For starters, let’s shed the “Everyone wants to come here” mindset. That might be true of vacationers, seasonal home owners and retirees, but we’ve seen that “growth” for decades and it’s helped create the bottom-heavy job market we’re dealing with today.

Is there available capital to help new companies get started and existing companies grow? That’s always a challenge. Area banks have demonstrated the ability, the capacity, and the will to assist those ready to grow. TraverseCONNECT’s business financing arm Venture North Funding & Development is also helping prime the pump by working with area financiers to launch new businesses and help other companies grow – to the tune of nearly $3.2 million and 200-plus new jobs over the period. Results are mixed on the public sector’s willingness – or the willingness of its constituents – to continue its historical role in the public-private partnership that is “development,” but overall local governments and the state are helping more than hurting efforts for job creation.

We must be willing to do whatever is necessary to address our infrastructure, including water and sewer, access to natural gas, improving our roadways and bridges, and upping our access to high-speed internet and broadband. Our available workforce is not deep and talented enough to attract major employers and the necessary housing stock is not available to accommodate sustainable workforce growth.   And we must support our schools and other public and private institutions as they strive to measure up to those in other communities working just as hard to attract these jobs and employers. These are not new challenges for our region, and we’ve successfully met them each time they’ve presented themselves in the past. I believe we can do the same now.

We have blue waters, beautiful scenery and numerous amenities that good employers are looking for. And those are parts of the equation, often providing the “tipping point” when companies make multi-million and even billion dollar decisions on where to move, invest and grow. If the region is serious about upgrading its employment base and truly compete with the rest of world for high-paying jobs, however, it will take an all-hands-on-deck effort to make happen.

Count us in!