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Business Review Western MI
Business Review Western MI
MSA Debate
(2007-02-14)
(wgvu) - Western Michigan was diminished when it was broken up in a
statistical area realignment three years ago, community developers say.
Now, they want to put it back together again.

The reason for all this is branding west Michigan as a region, a
very economically vibrant region, said Jenny Shangraw, a researcher
for the Right Place Inc. economic development agency.

Planners are building a case to restore U.S. Office of Management and
Budget recognition that the Grand Rapids labor market includes
Muskegon, Ottawa and Allegan Counties. Since 2003, those counties
have stood alone in critical labor-force statistical reports, while
Kent was aggregated with rural Newaygo, Ionia and Barry Counties.

People who do not know western Michigan would see Holland and
Muskegon as being very small metropolitan areas, and would see Grand
Rapids as smaller than it actually is, Kalamazoo economist George
Erickcek said.

Several planning and economic development agencies are reviewing a
study compiled by Erickcek supporting redesignation of the Grand
Rapids MSA as a larger economic market.

They could re-enlist U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, Republican of Grand
Rapids, and U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Holland, to take
their case to the federal agency that oversees the census bureau.
Those lawmakers petitioned the OMB to reconsider when the issue first
surfaced in 2003.

The current MSA does not recognize that the Grand Rapids area is
tightly connected to the counties to the west, explained Erickcek,
senior regional economist for the W.E. Upjohn Institute for
Employment Research. The 2003 realignment applied a new standard in
which counties were grouped in an MSA if at least 25 percent of the
labor force commuted to the adjacent county.

Yet Ottawa County, where more than 29,000 people commute to Kent
County daily, was just 317 individuals shy of that proportion,
Erickcek said.

Now, that's an arbitrary rule, he noted. There's nothing magical
about 25 percent.

The new arrangement also loses some critical local occupational and
wage information, analysts say.

The government won't divulge details if it could be traced to a
particular employer, which is more likely in a smaller MSA.

For example, it's hard to prove that Allegan County boasts a cadre of
researchers working for Perrigo Co., Grand Rapid-based researcher
Shangraw noted. Cutting off Allegan County into its own so-called
micropolitan statistical area, moreover, disregards a large chunk of
Holland's economy, analysts noted.

My problem as a data profiler is that, especially, occupational and
wage data is the key now. When a company is looking at Grand Rapids,
they want to know how many positions are in that particular
occupation and what are the wages, Shangraw explained.

It isn't just about how to divide the statistical labor pie, analysts
said. Federal funding also can hinge on the size and composition of
the area's labor force.

Redesignation of the region more along the lines of a combined MSA
makes more sense, economist Erickcek argued.

The West Michigan Strategic Alliance's federally funded WIRED work-
force development program, for example, matches a seven-county
combined MSA footprint. Alliance Executive Director Greg Northrup
said he'd like to retain such a grouping.

Part of the challenge now is for officials to agree on exactly what
they want. Some statistical data specific to Ottawa and Muskegon
Counties is likely to be lost if they again amalgamate into a Grand
Rapids MSA.

Part of the problem is that we always struggle in this area to
decide what a regional geography is going to look like, said Andrew
Bowman, planning director for the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council.

Unfortunately as regionalism in an area such as western Michigan
evolves, it depends on what you're talking about and who you're
talking to, to get that view.
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