Analysts project favorable job forecast

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Mackenzie Scott, a senior, works on a project in the welding lab at Lakeshore High School last month. The manufacturing sector added more than 300 jobs to the area in 2016, and is expected to have another increase in employment for 2017. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Nearly all Southwest Michigan industries can expect a bump in job growth, economic analysts say.

Rick VanIttersum, talent development manager with Kinexus, took a look at the numbers and trends from last year in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties to get a better idea of how 2017 will take shape for various businesses and industries.

“For the Tri-County area, we primarily focus on our four in-demand, high-growth industries that drive our economy,” VanIttersum said.

These four industries that hold the largest impact on the area include manufacturing, health care, hospitality and agriculture.

Jobs in the hospitality sector increased by 6.8 percent, adding about 700 jobs for a total of 11,312 for the region in 2016 – compared to the national increase of 2.6 percent.

Employment in the manufacturing industry, the Tri-County’s largest sector, increased by 1.8 percent adding 316 jobs for a total of 17,993 over last year.

The health care sector showed a 2.9 percent increase in employment in 2016, adding 255 jobs for a total of 10,757 in the region. The agriculture sector showed a 1.2 percent increase, adding 70 jobs for a total of 5,216 jobs.

VanIttersum said employment in the business services sector decreased by 5.6 percent, for a loss of 542 jobs between 2015 and 2016.

This was considered a “localized trend” compared to the national 4.6 percent increase in jobs between 2015 and 2016 in the business services sector.

“Although there is nearly a 10 percent gap between local and national data, this is not a major concern as most of the decline is within the employment services industry, a component of the business services sector,” VanIttersum said. “This suggests many temporary or contract employees in 2015 became permanent employees during 2016.”

Looking ahead

Growth is expected for all four high-demand industries across the region in 2017, VanIttersum said.

Hospitality is expected to increase by 2.2 percent, for a growth of 242 jobs in the Tri-County region.

Additionally, health care is projected to grow by 1.1 percent, adding 114 jobs. The region’s largest sector, manufacturing, is estimated to grow by 1.4 percent in 2017, with an increase of 242 jobs. Agriculture is also expected to grow by 0.6 percent, adding 29 jobs to the work force.

Overall, employment is expected to grow by 0.9 percent, adding 923 jobs to the Tri-County area in 2017.

The statewide forecast calls for an overall 1.1 percent increase in employment for 2017. For the state, there is a slight decline in manufacturing jobs – about a 0.3 percent drop statewide – which will be surpassed by job growth in the service sectors including hospitality, construction and trade transportation.

“Our region’s labor force participation rate currently stands at 61 percent,” VanIttersum said. “More than 1,700 people entered the labor force in 2016, which includes anyone who is currently working or actively seeking employment.”

The labor force participation rate is recognized as the labor force as a percent of the population.

While January 2017 employment and labor force numbers are still being compiled for Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties, VanIttersum said they shouldn’t be that different from where things left off at the end of 2016.

When monthly unemployment numbers are released, Kinexus compares the local unemployment rate to the state and national figures, reviews historical data for that month from a one- to five-year period, and looks for long-term trends among the four targeted industries.

These factors could suggest shifts within various industries and the overall labor market, VanIttersum said.

“A dramatic change in the unemployment rate from one month may indicate seasonal factors, not a change in the Tri-County economy,” VanIttersum said. “For example, unemployment rates are higher in January and February due to winter layoffs in the construction and hospitality industries.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 2, 2017)

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