Tuesday, September 11, 2007
By Julia Bauer
The Grand Rapids Press

Employers in the Holland and Grand Rapids regions are among the most upbeat in the state, based on hiring forecasts by Manpower Inc.

While 7 percent of those surveyed in Holland forecast layoffs this fall, 38 percent expect to hire.

Around Grand Rapids, no employers forecast layoffs, and 23 percent said they expect to add jobs.

One busy spot in Grand Rapids is Pridgeon & Clay Inc., a longtime manufacturer of stamped metal parts for the auto industry. With 19 jobs listed in the help wanted ads, the company still is looking for more help.

"We're having a difficult time finding enough good workers," said Kevin Hutchings, a company spokesman.

The company employs more than 700 at its plant at 50 Cottage Grove St. SW. The firm is moving from a five-day work schedule to two mini-weeks, with two shifts running Monday through Thursday and two more Friday through Sunday.

"We have not slowed down," Hutchings said. "We've put on close to 200 people already."

The fourth-quarter forecast reflects better employer confidence, Manpower spokesman Joe Ross said. The previous quarter showed 17 percent of Grand Rapids area employers adding jobs and 3 percent cutting them.

A year ago, 20 percent of companies said they would add jobs, and 7 percent planned cutbacks.

The best prospects this fall are jobs in nondurable goods manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, finance and insurance, and other services. Manpower forecasts no change in hiring for construction, durable goods, transportation and education.

While Manpower looks ahead, analysts at the W.E. Upjohn Institute in Kalamazoo review the past. It has been a quiet summer on the employment front, according to George Erickcek, senior regional analyst for Upjohn.

With West Michigan unemployment ranging around 6 percent, other parameters measured by Upjohn worsened in the latest quarter. That portends a no-growth forecast for jobs.

The Grand Rapids region, including Kent, Allegan, Barry and Ionia counties, posted just a 0.2 percent job growth last quarter. Manufacturing was up a mite, by 0.1 percent, while construction was down slightly in a soft real estate market.

Other indicators were mixed. Help wanted ads were down 16 percent, and new home construction starts fell 27.6 percent. But new jobless claims fell, by 0.8 percent.

Ottawa County lost 900 jobs this summer, pushing overall employment down by 0.8 percent. Losses were in the service sector and construction. Manufacturing jobs edged up by 0.1 percent, but that meager growth was offset by 2.6 percent jobs lost in construction. The county's housing starts were off more than 43 percent in the past year.

On other fronts, Ottawa County's outlook also is trending toward glum, Upjohn said. Service jobs were off 1.8 percent, with 270 jobs lost in the leisure and hospitality sector. Retailers cut 2.5 percent of their work forces last quarter. The county's unemployment rate stands at 5.5 percent.