GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- Even Birgit Klohs was surprised the Greater Grand Rapids region has one of the best economies in the nation.
Usually when the region is ranked, it's compared to similar size regions. For the first time, the Grand Rapids-Wyoming qualified in the top category alongside metropolitan heavyweights such as Chicago, Boston and Seattle.
"If we had ranked No. 1 in our category, I wouldn't have been surprised at all," said the CEO of The Right Place, the region's economic development organization.
Grand Rapids only lagged behind Denver and Houston in the study that compared the nation's 373 metropolitan statistical areas, according to a report published this month on Area Development's website.
And Klohs pointed out, this ranking isn't based on "feel good" results of a survey but "real robust data" from the Bureau of Labor and other credible sources that measure job growth and economic development.
"It's means the work that is being done collectively for our region is obviously paying off," Klohs said.
BY THE NUMBERS
GR-Wyoming MSA Detailed Info Rankings by Category
• "Prime Workforce" Indicators: #30
• "Economic Strength" Indicators: #3
• "Recession Busting Cities" Indicators: #10
• "Year-Over-Year Growth Cities" Indicators: #4
• Workforce 18-44 Years with Bachelor's Degree or Higher (2013 Rank): #97 (2010-2013 3-Year Change) #91
• Total Bachelor's Degree or Higher as percentage of Total Workforce (2013 Rank): #180 (2010-2013 3-Year Change) #26
Local Area Unemployment Rate:
• December 2014 Rank: #42
• 1-Year Change Rank (2013-2014): #28
• 3-Year Change Rank (2011-2014): #73
• 5-Year Change Rank (2009-2014): #11
Wage and Salary Growth: Average Hourly Earnings:
• 1-Year Change Rank (2013-2014): #62
• 3-Year Change Rank (2011-2014): #89
• 5-Year Change Rank (2009-2014): #178
Per Capita Real (GMP) Gross Metropolitan Product:
• December 2014 Rank: #125
• 1-Year Change Rank (2013-2014): #79
• 3-Year Change Rank (2011-2014): #68
• 5-Year Change Rank (2009-2014): #70
Manufacturing / Goods Producing Employment Growth as percentage of Total Population:
• 1-Year Change Rank (2013-2014): #41
• 3-Year Change Rank (2011-2014): #18
• 5-Year Change Rank (2009-2014): #13
Employment Growth as % of Total Population:
• 1-Year Change Rank (2013-2014): #14
• 3-Year Change Rank (2011-2014): #11
• 5-Year Change Rank (2009-2014): #10
Over the past decade, the region has rapidly diversified its business base and strengthened its education base, according to the report by Area Development.
The organization credits years of thoughtful public-private partnerships that built up downtown Grand Rapids with public venues for entertainment, launched a medical corridor and supported the growth of educational campuses for the region's economic success.
The regions that topped the list "invested in themselves to create skilled workforces and pro-business environments," said Geraldine Gambale, editor of Area Development, in a statement.
"Many of these (areas) have strong educational assets and they've attracted the talented individuals that forward-looking companies need," Gambale said. "Also, their diverse economies allowed them to emerge from the recession more quickly than other locales."
Downtown Grand Rapids is the heart of the Grand Rapids-Wyoming metropolitan statistical area (MSA), which stretches across four counties: Kent, Ottawa, Barry and Newaygo. The Right Place promotes a more expansive 14-county region.
Klohs is counting on the ranking in the fifth annual "Leading Locations" study to bolster the Right Place's efforts to recruit and retain jobs in the region.
In September, Kalamazoo's Upjohn Institute reported the region is in good economic shape to ride out more difficult times that might hit.
"We were obviously totally delighted because when we have to talk to people about why this is a good place to do business third party data is not generated by us," Klohs said. "It obviously speaks for itself and is a different story than what we can tell."
The quarterly publication goes outs out 44,000 executives and site location professionals who help companies make the decision whether to expand or move into a region.
The study is based on data from government agencies and industry organizations such as the Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Census American Community Survey and Moody's Analytics. The 373 regions were compared across 21 economic and work force indicators.
"With 373 MSAs all vying for attention, staying front-of-mind within the global site selection and business community is extremely difficult," said Klohs. "Third-party studies like this validate the growth we are experiencing throughout the region and increase the overall perception of West Michigan as a global destination for business success."
What the study highlighted about the Grand Rapids-Wyoming region:
• Total employment in the Grand Rapids-Wyoming region is projected to grow 3.2 percent in 2015, according to the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. Total unemployment in the region has fallen to about 4.6 percent — a result of a resurgence in manufacturing, construction and retail.
• In October 2014 Forbes.com ranked Grand Rapids-Wyoming fifth-best in the country for regional economic growth on a per capita basis from 2010 through 2013, based on a study by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. At 7.8 percent, Grand Rapids' per capita gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate (2010–2013) more than doubled the national growth rate of 3.8 percent.
• Key industries are advanced manufacturing, life sciences, agribusiness, aerospace and defense, and information technology. With these productive science-based sectors, it is not surprising that Grand Rapids-Wyoming ranks 13 for science and engineering occupations as a percentage of total workforce.
• In 2014 Grand Rapids-Wyoming announced 22 projects totaling $315 million capital investment, creating 2,183 jobs. For example, Chinese auto supplier Dicastal North America decided to establish its first U.S. facility in nearby Greenville. The $140 million plant will hire 300 workers over the next four years to manufacture aluminum-alloy wheels. The company explored 35 sites in seven states before making its final decision.
Shandra Martinez covers business for MLive/The Grand Rapids Press. Email her or follow her on Twitter @shandramartinez.