Road to recovery: Planning for future economic success

Posted in Blog on April 28, 2021

Road to recovery: Planning for future economic succes

As printed in Holland Sentinel HERE, April 26, 2021
Lakeshore Advantage is no stranger to making plans and modifying our course when an unexpected challenge emerges in our economy or community. Recognizing the health crisis and immediate small business economic fallout the pandemic has caused, the Lakeshore Advantage team continues to picture a vibrant economic future for our region. 

In mid-2020, Lakeshore Advantage worked with the Upjohn Institute on a comprehensive plan to explore key items that even in a very strong economic climate could be barriers for our region’s future growth.  
The plan is a compass, but in the midst of COVID-19 stormy seas, our team priority was to right the ship, responding to urgent needs. As the clouds part, our team focuses forward on key barriers identified in the plan that were important before the pandemic, and have been proven critically essential now, including:

Increasing Access and Affordability of Higher Education  
Most jobs that pay above the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) income level require education beyond high school. About 30 percent of our population lives below the ALICE threshold. Allegan and Ottawa counties are two of three counties in Michigan with a population of more than 100,000 that do not have a community college millage. This means limited choices in locally available community college classes and our students pay double the cost per credit hour that of students in Kent or Muskegon counties. Our team is working with a school and community leaders group to develop strategies to increase higher education accessibility and affordability here. 

Improving Access to Broadband
We had a broadband issue before the pandemic; now it’s an emergency. Over the past year, the majority of our kids and workforce relied on internet connectivity to learn or support their families. This isn’t a new issue, rather a very complex and expansive one with no easy fix. Our team is working with local, county, state, and federal leaders who all agree that closing the digital divide is a high priority. All are welcome to join a live webinar 3 p.m. May 27 with experts addressing our region’s digital divide ( to register.) 

Accelerating Industry 4.0 Growth
The robots are taking over in our community and it’s a good thing. We are home to a growing automation solutions cluster anchored by leaders including JR Automation and Koops Automation Systems. With one in three jobs in our region being in manufacturing, the potential for job skill growth with manufacturers adopting these technologies is exponential. Clearly defining this industry cluster and extending expertise and the benefits Industry 4.0 technologies provide to manufacturers is a high priority for our team. This will ensure the jobs of the future will continue to be in our region. 

Attracting Emerging Workers
Our population is aging, and baby boomers are exiting the workforce. In our region with deep roots in business innovation, our team navigates startup companies every day that have the potential to be tomorrow’s base employers. We must attract and retain emerging workers to sustain current employment levels. We must accelerate growth of emerging companies and be a magnet for them. This means increasing access to affordable housing, strengthening our downtowns, and welcoming people from all over the world to our community. This work takes all of us to build an open community that is attractive to our children and grandchildren, and also to talented individuals who have many choices of where to live, so that they choose to live here. 

These four barriers, which I will now call “opportunity areas” are interconnected. 

The pandemic is causing some emerging workers to relocate from big national cities. We have an opportunity to be their landing spot, but not without housing inventory or broadband to support their remote work. 

Without access to affordable higher education, we miss an opportunity to train our local workforce for Industry 4.0 skillsets, along with the opportunity to grow this cluster if we do not have the workforce to support it. 

Without broadband, virtual learning is frustrating at best and impossible at worst for all students. 

The key opportunity areas outlined in the plan have become more relevant with pain points exposed through the pandemic. The barriers are steep. With over $5 billion coming to our state through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the opportunity is present to make targeted, long-lasting investments to tackle barriers and expand economic opportunity. Working together with focus, our community can expect a very strong future.