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Uncertainty remains, but job gains expected in West Michigan economy in 2021

Steven Depolo

The economic forecast for West Michigan in 2021 isn’t all gloom and doom.

As of October, about 43,000 fewer people had jobs in the Grand Rapids area, compared to before the pandemic, according to federal statistics.

And that was before the state’s latest emergency health orders went into effect.

Still Jim Robey of the UpJohn Institute for Employment Research, says the economy is much better than it was in the spring. And many of the lost jobs will come back.

“We’re feeling fairly positive about the long-run trends for the region, but we want to be careful about that,” Robey says.

Robey presented a regional economic analysis and forecast in December at an event hosted by The Right Place, Inc., a local economic development firm. He said there are many uncertainties for the local economy headed into 2021. One big uncertainty is how local furniture manufacturers will be affected by the shift toward more remote work.

Still, he says he expects the region will regain jobs as it recovers from the pandemic.   

“So I don’t believe this to be quite the jobless recovery that we dug ourselves out of at the Great Recession,” he said. "This a totally different game, and I believe that as we’re able to get back, we’ll see employment grow.”

Robey says even as jobs come back for the region, it may not see a full recovery until 2022 or 2023.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Radio’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Radio since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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