LEAP Annual Report Shows Steady Growth for Greater Lansing

The Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) 2015 annual report showcases the region’s progress with developments, large and small, that show continued job growth, a diversifying economy and strategic investment in the Lansing area’s future.

LEAP President and CEO Bob Trezise grades the scorecard as very good and solid.

“We had a lot of projects, but the pipeline was less full than during the last couple of years” he said. In 2013, LEAP related projects created 2,105 jobs and accounted for $466 million in private investment. In 2014, it reported 463 jobs and $271 million in private investment.

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Still, last year, though more modest, featured developments that are reshaping the region.

The annual report cited four projects of particular importance.

General Motors completed investment in its Grand River and Delta Assembly plants, adding 500 initial jobs Jackson National opened its expanded national headquarters, adding 1,000 jobs.

Niowave opened a new $79 million medical isotope production facility at the Capital Regional International Airport Construction began on the $90 million, nine-story SkyVue mixed use development on Michigan Avenue

According to LEAP, the Lansing region is catching up to other powerhouse regions in Michigan and the country, according to LEAP.

“We are always thinking about what’s next,” said LEAP Executive Committee Chairman Steve Curran, president and creative director of Harvest Creative Services.

“Think of what’s happening now as a watershed moment for us as an economic development organization,” he continued.

LEAP continues to expand its membership, staffing, now at 11, and its budget — $2.1 million last year, an increase of nearly 60 percent since 2012. Its board of directors is drawn from virtually all segments of the local economy, manufacturing, higher education, law, real estate, transportation, as well as city, township and county governments.

LEAP’s success, Curran said, is rooted in its insistence on measurable results, which, in turn, encourages business and political leaders to invest in the organization and its economic development strategies.

The annual report identified shrinking government and growth of the “knowledge sector” as trends that are transforming the local economy and shaping LEAP’s initiatives.

Government, as a regional economic driver, is shrinking as the business sector expands. Between 2012 and 2015, the share of the government gross domestic product (GDP) declined from $4.4 billion to $4.15 billion while the share of private sector GDP has increased from $15.8 billion to $16.95 billion.

This shift is good and is one of the most important indicators of a healthy economy, Trezise said.

“We need to have a much better ratio of private sector and public sector to be a Madison or Columbus,” he added.

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For Lansing, government must remain a vital leg of the economy and job market. But it’s the private sector, Trezise noted, that supports entrepreneurs and innovation.

“It is far more likely that someone working at Jackson National will start their own IT firm than a person in state government,” he said.

An expanding business sector requires a more skilled workforce, and between 2005 and 2014, occupations classified within the “knowledge sector” increased by 5.32 percent. But compared with more successful economies, the region is under educated.

LEAP reports that 33 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is close to the national average. For metro areas like Madison, Wis., the percentage tops 43 percent.

“Some argue that this is the number one indicator of a successful economy. Our numbers are okay, but they don’t put us in a category where we need to be to have a huge future,” Trezise said.

What the Lansing region has – and other regions lack – is a strong base of colleges and universities with programs and experience to groom a more educated and skilled workforce.

It’s a community-wide effort involving schools, businesses and government. “We are putting the issue out there,” Trezise said. “We need people to be aware. Thankfully, there are answers.”

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Mickey Hirten

Mickey Hirten

Mickey Hirten is an award winning writer and editor. He has been executive editor of the Lansing State Journal, the Burlington Free Press in Vermont, and was the financial editor and a columnist for the Baltimore Evening Sun. He is the current president of the Michigan Press Association. His wife, Maureen Hirten, is director of the Capital Area District Library.

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