Despite pandemic, West Michigan execs still bullish about growth in 2021

ZEELAND—Business executives are bullish about their 2021 prospects for sales, new product development, and expansion, according to a new survey from the economic development agency for Allegan, Ottawa, and Muskegon counties, Lakeshore Advantage.

The 2020 Business Intelligence Report is the analysis of executive responses from 120 companies in the three counties.

“Data drives our work and employer input is crucial to support our local economic base. In the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we administered 10 weekly quick polls and received 1,000 responses that enabled us to meet immediate business needs,” said Jennifer Owens, Lakeshore Advantage president. “The report offers a pre-pandemic baseline, and reveals what’s top of mind for area employers as we emerge from crisis stage and look to the future.”

Business leader responses before the COVID-19 pandemic onset and again several months later show that while down from pre-COVID-19 responses, 72 percent of companies are currently reporting increasing or stable sales. Companies with increasing or stable sales were likely to be in advanced manufacturing, durable goods manufacturing, and food processing.

When asked about changes that companies plan to make in the next six months, the top response was increasing sales efforts (47 percent) followed by increasing marketing efforts (32 percent).

“This report gives companies in Muskegon, Ottawa, and Allegan Counties an incredibly valuable perspective on how COVID has affected businesses in our region,” said Morgan Carroll, director of business development for Great Muskegon Economic Development. “They can compare how they’re performing with some of the top corporations in West Michigan, see how their own industry has been impacted, and learn about what others are doing to adapt. This report also reinforces that every company, no matter their size, has had to make changes, but the overall outlook for growth along the Lakeshore is strong.”

While down slightly from pre-COVID numbers (81 percent to 74 percent), nearly three out of four respondents still anticipate new products in the next two years. Companies reporting new products on the horizon tended to be in advanced manufacturing, aerospace, automotive, durable goods manufacturing, and food processing.

“While the pandemic has been disruptive in many ways, it hasn’t curtailed Gentex’s product development efforts,” said Craig Piersma, director of marketing and corportate communications at Gentex Corp. “This past year, we developed new partnerships, acquired innovative technologies, and expanded our product portfolio not only in the automotive industry, but also entirely new markets. This growth trajectory will continue in 2021 as we extend our capabilities in digital vision, dimmable glass, car connectivity, and sensing systems.”

Prior to March 15, three out of four employers indicated they had plans to expand in the next three years. When asked this question again several months post-pandemic onset, 55 percent of business executives indicated plans to expand in the next three years. Perrigo, the manufacturer or private-label and generic drug and healthcare products, started construction on two distribution centers in the region in 2020.

“Our combined Allegan and Ottawa County campuses comprise the company’s largest manufacturing operations by far, representing more than half of all the units we produce on a global basis,” said Ron Janish, Perrigo’s executive vice president of global operations and supply chain. “With 11,000 employees globally, and over 4,000 employees in West Michigan, the region is truly the cornerstone of our global operating network.”

Business executive interviews were conducted by Lakeshore Advantage, Greater Muskegon Economic Development, The Chamber of Commerce of Grand Haven, Spring Lake, and Ferrysburg, and other area chambers to produce this regional West Michigan Lakeshore-area report.

“The Chamber of Commerce Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg has been partnering with Lakeshore Advantage on collecting this data for several years, interviewing 20 companies in Northwest Ottawa County to support the great work they have done with publishing this important report,” said Elizabeth Butler, director of economic development and strategic directions for the chamber. “Including business leaders from Northwest Ottawa County responses with others in the lakeshore region gives a regional perspective on the lakeshore’s economic health and vitality.”

The report also highlights company partnerships and expansions, expansion trends and industry trends to look for in 2021. The full 2020 Business Intelligence Report is available at

Officials at Lakeshore Advantage said manufacturing accounts for 28 percent of jobs in the three counties—and those jobs earn 33 percent more in hourly compensation (wages and benefits) than comparable workers in the rest of the private sector. Manufacturing accounts for 39.7 percent of the Gross Regional Product for the three counties.

In 2020, Lakeshore Advantage supported 14 business growth projects, resulting in $152 million in private investment and 652 new jobs. The organization assisted 395 primary employers in 2020, which is double the typical support due to the increased need caused by the global pandemic. In addition, Lakeshore Advantage supported 63 startup companies that raised $2.1 million in capital and administered two grant programs that injected $3.625 million into the local economy for more than 450 small businesses. More at

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