Report: More employers turning to automation to overcome labor shortages

Primary employers in Ottawa and Allegan Counties are overcoming talent shortages with automation, according to West Michigan’s Lakeshore Region 2023 Industry Trends Report.

The new report by Lakeshore Advantage analyzes more than 120 responses from interviews with local business executives. Executives across the two counties were interviewed from June 2022 through May 2023. A majority—more than 60 percent—reported feeling somewhat or very prepared to adopt “smart” technologies.
“Manufacturing is the backbone of this economy,” says Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage. “Companies that are investing in technology are growing. We are focused on helping small to mid-sized manufacturers understand the tools and resources available to leverage so they can stay competitive and create safe, good-paying jobs.”

Positive trends
The report shows key points about the economic health of the region. Of those interviewed:
  • 52% said they plan to expand in the next three years.
  • 98% reported an increasing or stable market share.
  • 91% said total company sales were increasing or stable.
  • 86% shared that they plan to introduce new products, services, and/or capabilities in the next two years.
  • 70% of companies reported tuition reimbursement offerings, compared to a national average of 48%.
  • More businesses reported operating at regular hours this year, as opposed to operating with overtime or decreased hours.
The Lakeshore region has a concentrated cluster of automation solutions providers and a talent pipeline that supports the growing automation job market. The number of automation engineers in the region has increased by 40% over the last five years, and the occupation is projected to grow an additional 15 percent in the next five, according to data produced by Lightcast. These providers support West Michigan’s heavily manufacturing-based economy (23%, compared to 16% for the rest of the state, according to the Michigan Center for Data & Analytics), as well as manufacturers worldwide.
Executives cited cost and lack of staff as the top two barriers to adopting smart technologies. A top barrier to growth reported by employers was supply chain disruptions. 

The Lakeshore Advantage report is an analysis of more than 120 interviews with Ottawa, Allegan County business leaders.

Major initiatives underway

The report also summarizes actions taken by area nonprofits and local units of government in response to other challenges to the region’s economy, including:
  • Housing Next’s efforts to raise and leverage millions of dollars across West Michigan for workforce housing.
  • Ottawa County’s allocation of  American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the Outdoor Discovery Center’s efforts to increase child care capacity by 1,000 spots over the next three years.
  • Allegan County’s commitment of ARPA funding toward expanded broadband, matched by provider 123 Net and supplemented by Michigan ROBIN grant funding.
“Our job is to ensure that current and future generations want to live and work in the Lakeshore region,” says Amanda Murray, vice president of business solutions for Lakeshore Advantage. “Our focus is on primary employers. They make a choice to be in this community, and we need to keep them healthy and growing.”
Lakeshore Advantage presented the report to local business and government leaders at a gathering Sept. 13. It also presented best-use stories of smart technology applications by small- and mid-sized manufacturers in the region.
The full report can be viewed here.
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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.