GRCC GVSU Forge Biotech Alliance

July 26, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — With biomedical research proceding at its necessarily deliberate pace in the Van Andel Institute — the northwest anchor of Michigan’s Health Sciences Corridor — another of the corridor’s components is taking shape.

It’s a sort of academic strategic alliance between Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State University.

By way of background, most of the scientific investigators and much of the staff at the VAI hail either from other parts of the country or the world.

That fact quickly led to the concern that Grand Rapids — having a traditional industrial orientation — doesn’t have a human base trained to fill the demand for exotic biomed jobs in molecular biology, genomics, and even, one day, nanotechnology in health care.

But the presidents of GRCC and GVSU — respectively Juan Olivarez and MarkMurray  — and their institutions’ policy-making bodies have decided to position the schools to respond to any training or educational demand as it emerges at this end of the corridor.

Their thought is that if biomed technology is to create jobs here, why not train local people so that they have the opportunity to work in the field instead of importing people from London, Geneva and Heidelberg.

So their intention is that GVSU’s Center for Health Professions (now under construction on Michigan Avenue kitty-corner from the Spectrum Health campus) will give the university sort of an academic early warning radar about emerging biotechnologies and the jobs needed to staff them.

The center’s radar, so to speak, likely will be doubly acute since the building also is planned with space for tax-favored private-sector health sciences entrepreneurial incubators. Those incubators will be the seedbeds for what Lansing hopes one day will become the Michigan equivalent in health sciences of California’s Silicon Valley as it relates to the world of computers.

And the chances for such a “valley” here would look far better if investment capitalists buying start-ups that show promise could find the local talent to staff such enterprises rather than having to move new companies, say, to Dallas or Chicago.

The notion is that the Center for Health Professions will feed job demand information to both GRCC and GVSU (not to mention Michigan State University, which has its own oar in the water).

GRCC then would establish and make available appropriate prerequisite courses for homegrown biotech and biomed wannabes who, after four semesters or sooner, could be handed off to the university for upper-class training and a bachelor’s degree.

Practical experience, graduate training and upgraded training also would be available through the GVSU center.

But the key thing as Olivarez and Murray see it, is that their institutions would be local residents’ entry to the new-age health care industry seen as emerging here in the next decade.

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