GRAND RAPIDS – The economic pace for West Michigan was strong in September, but October was even stronger, said Brian G. Long, director of Supply Management Research in Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business.

The current economy is about as good as it gets, Long said. “Hiring and retaining new workers continues to be a big problem for some firms, so we can’t expect much more expansion.”

Long surveyed local business leaders and his findings below are based on data collected during the last two weeks of October.

The survey’s index of business improvement (new orders) rose confidently to +36, from +28. The production index edged up to +30, from +29. The index of purchases rose to +29, from +21, and the employment index came in at +24, down from +29.

Long said auto sales numbers continue to surprise many economists. “After all the talk about auto sales softening, the October sales report from Automotive News posted a minor gain of 0.4 percent,” Long said. “The seasonally adjusted sales rate (SAAR) rose to 17.59 million vehicles from 17.44 in September.”

Long said year-over-year unemployment rates continue to fall; Kent County is at 2.6 percent, Ottawa County is at 2.5 percent and Kalamazoo County is at 3.0 percent. 

Long said there has been an interesting twist on the tariffs. “Because of some Chinese firms experiencing declining business, they have been willing to cut prices enough to cover the cost of the tariffs,” he said.

The Institute for Supply Management survey is a monthly survey of business conditions that includes 45 purchasing managers in the greater Grand Rapids area and 25 in Kalamazoo. The respondents are from the region’s major industrial manufacturers, distributors and industrial service organizations. It is patterned after a nationwide survey conducted by the Institute for Supply Management. Each month, the respondents are asked to rate eight factors as “same,” “up” or “down.”