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Muskegon Economy

The Lowdown

Alright. Bottom line first: Great place! Need jobs! We need jobs really bad.

Depending on the source, Muskegon's unemployment rate is at 20% ( Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic growth ). The US Depatrment of Labor puts the unemployment level in the Muskegon-Norton Shores statistical area at 16.8% for June 2009 with a 7% drop in non farm salaried employment from this same time last year.

Where is Muskegon relative to the rest of the country? as of this posting (January 2010) we are 361 out of 372. Eleven places up from the highest unemployment among Metropolitan areas tracked by the US Department of Labor.

But, darnit. It won't be like that forever. We're working our butts off to change that.

Education and Health Services is now the only industry that consistently expands its employment numbers. And though the leisure and hospitality sector seemed for a few years to be one of the few growing industries in the Muskegon area, it sagged 13.8% from last year's numbers.

Unemployment here is bad, there's really no other way to say it.

Nearly one in five people is out of work.

While the Nation struggles to find its economic footing and the State searches for ways to lure new businesses to the area and plug deficit holes brought on by a shrinking economy, Muskegon is doing everything it can to push back against this nasty economy.

On the bright side housing and commercial property is cheap, the city is naturally positioned near excellent leisure activities, and a stone's throw from major population and cultural centers. The city has also spent the last decade or so transitioning its down town from an industrial-manufacturing center to a shopping, entertainment, and commerce center with $10,000,000 Federal waterway restoration dollars recently awarded to restore Muskegon Lake. The city has also invested heavily in alternative energy in cooperation with Grand Valley State University, with the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center, alternative energey business incubator - See MAREC Website

Before the national economic slump Muskegon was one of the fastest growing economies in Michigan, and for a while in the upper midwest. When the national economy rebounds, Muskegon SHOULD be well positioned to come out of it quite well. Should be.

Regular Article

As part of my job, I work directly with small business owners all over the Muskegon area, and they are quick to talk about their perspective on Muskegon's economic situation.

This page will give a "worms eye view" of the Muskegon economy. It's not going to Promote Muskegon as so many articles do. But it certainly won't demote the region, either. It'll just give a general overview of Muskegon's economic mood.

General Muskegon Back Story

Back in the late 1800's, Muskegon was RICH. Filthy rich. One of the richest cities in the US. It was like the .com boom, but with lumber. Muskegon lumber barons made fast and easy money harvesting the huge trees from Michigan's untouched woodlands. With an enormous freshwater port (Muskegon Lake) right off Lake Michigan, and with lots of big rivers, Muskegon was uniquely positioned to process and transport the lumber. Muskegon was rich. Luxuriously rich.

Today, Muskegon isn't rich. But there's a haunting local memory of that era, as though Muskegon should be, or could be rich again. As though the last 100 years was simply a temporary hiatus from our rich destiny.

But Lumber Barons aside, let's not forget the people who did the actual work. As the trees got used up and the money became scarce, the lumber barons left and took all their money with them. There's a few who stayed, one notable one being Charles Hackley whose generous endowments still fund the Museum of Art. But mostly, the folks who stayed were the ones who gave their blood and sweat in the mills and foundries.

Recent History

In the early 1990s Muskegon had its ass handed to it as GM closed down plants with gleeful abandon, and unemployment exploded (Though in the late 90's Muskegon enjoyed about the same level of low unemployment the rest of the country did).

Some have made political hay with the state's high unemployment on both sides of the aisle. But in reality, the reason for Michigan's woes extends from its over-dependence on the domestic automobile industry and manufacturing. As GM, Ford, and Chrysler lose market share and find themselves buried under billions of dollars in promised pensions and health benefits for life for a longer living population of ex-workers, Michigan's economy follows suite. For each manufacturing job that's lost, another non-manufacturing job is lost due to lowered spending in a given region.

Just like the rest of the state, Muskegon felt the effects of that. It's seen an almost unbroken decline in manufacturing jobs since 2001. The bright spots of the Muskegon economy are Education and Health Services, which has seen almost unbroken job growth since 2001. Another growing industry in Muskegon is Leisure and Hospitality, which has enjoyed healthy growth since 2001.

Overall, since Muskegon's non farm employment has been higher than it's ever been (with the exception of the year 2000, an anamolously awesome year for everybody in the US), according the to US Department of Labor.

Also interesting...Michigan's exports are expected to grow by 5% in 2008 due to a weaker dollar and more people buying up cheap, but high quality, US goods!

Muskegon has pretty pronounced seasonal economic swings. One oddity of note, relative to surrounding cities, Muskegon, Michigan seems to have a slightly higher than usual percentage of people joining the workforce during the summer. According to the US Department of Labor, in June and July of every year, Muskegon's unemployment rate skyrockets, sometimes by almost a full percentage point.

But at the same time, June and July see hundreds MORE jobs. Higher employment AND higher unemployment rates?

Following are percentage increases in the Civilian Labor Force per city, from April to July.

Grand Haven.
Grand Rapids.

Water, Water Everywhere, and You Can Drink It

Michigan is the only state in the country that's entirely within the Great Lakes water basin. And guess what? We're not selling it. So just forget about it. As other parts of the US see water problems, and the Southwest civil engineers start to realize they've built massive cities in the middle of the desert without the essential ingredient of civilization - water - there may be a revitalization of business growth here in the Great Lakes States. Does your industry need water to function? I know where there's six quadrillion gallons of it...20% of the world's supply of above ground fresh water. Come to where the flavor is.

US Department of Labor Stats for Muskegon

Dept of Labor Stats for Muskegon
Definition: What is the Civilian Labor Force

What is the Civilian Labor Force?

Basically, anybody who has a job or wants a job is part of the "Civilian Labor Force."

According to the US Department of Labor ( ) "The sum of the employed and the unemployed constitutes the civilian labor force. Persons not in the labor force combined with those in the civilian labor force constitute the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years of age and over. Under these concepts, most people are quite easily classified. For example:

  • Elizabeth Lloyd reported to the interviewer that last week she worked 40 hours as a sales manager for the Western Beverage Company.
  • Steve Hogan lost his job when the local plant of the Chariot Aircraft Manufacturing Company was closed down. Since then, he has been visiting the personnel offices of the other factories in the town trying to find a job.
  • Linda Coleman is a homemaker. Last week, she was occupied with her normal household chores. She neither held a job nor looked for a job. Her 80-year old father who lives with her has not worked or looked for work because of a disability.

Each of these examples is clear cut. Elizabeth is employed; Steve is unemployed; and Linda and her father are not in the labor force.