GRAND RAPIDS — Despite slower growth for the local economy in 2019, West Michigan business owners expect a profitable year with increased sales and hiring, according to a Grand Valley State University economics professor.

Paul Isely, professor of economics and associate dean in the Seidman College of Business, unveiled his benchmark survey of the regional economy and predictions for 2019 during the 2019 Colliers Annual West Michigan Economic and Commercial Real Estate Forecast event at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids on January 31. 

The economic survey of the greater Grand Rapids economy (Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties) was conducted in November and December of 2018. 

Isely said the 2018 local economy was as strong as he predicted; he said the local economy will experience growth in 2019, but at a slower rate.

“We are looking for a slowdown for those supporting the automotive sector, but for the overall economy, the expectation for hiring and sales is positive, and wages will accelerate faster this year,” said Isely. “We just have a much smaller group of fast-running companies right now.”

Isely said trade will be a big issue for 2019.

“While trade actions politically have had a small direct effect on our local growth, the fact that business owners are pulling back their investment will have a much larger drag on our growth.”

Overall findings for 2019:

• The Current Business Confidence Index for 2018 was 80.8 percent, a small improvement from 2017; 

• The Forecast Business Confidence Index for 2019 is 78.6 percent, a drop from the expectations seen in the last few years;

• Employment is expected to grow by 1.1-1.5 percent in 2019, a rate consistent with the growth seen in 2018;

• Overall nominal sales are expected to increase by 2.7-3.1 percent for 2019, a slowdown from the last few years; 

• Exports are expected to grow by 1.0-2.0 percent in 2019, reversing the increase expectations from 2018;

• All indicators signal the West Michigan economy will grow at a slower pace in 2019 compared to 2018.

The West Michigan economic survey was conducted by Isely, along with graduate assistant Riley Hall and assistance from staff members from the West Michigan Regional Small Business Development Center, housed in the Seidman College of Business.