Life Sciences Score Southeast 13 Kent 1

June 9, 2003
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Well, as they say, the pendulum has swung … big time.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm last month announced nearly $30 million in direct Michigan Economic Development Corp. grants for the Life Sciences component of what she calls the Technology Tri-Corridor.

The recipient list presents a fairly stark pattern.

MEDC awarded one grant in Kent County and 13 in southeast Michigan.

Of $28 million in grants (another $2 million is set aside as venture money), MEDC awarded about $21 million in the southeast Michigan end of the corridor and less than $1 million here. To break the numbers down a bit further, MEDC handed out one grant in Oakland County, four in neighboring Wayne County and eight in Washtenaw County.

The University of Michigan and Wayne State University reaped the bulk of the grant money: $11.2 million and $7.5 million respectively. Michigan State University received Ingham County's three grants totaling $4.3 million.

One other major grant was awarded in West Michigan: just over $1 million to a Berrien County for-profit firm.

No matter how you look at it, the grants' geographic distribution seems wholly out of line with the state's economic composition. Michigan's fastest growth has been in the Grand Rapids-Holland-Muskegon triangle, but Lansing apparently has succumbed to its traditional affinity for southeast Michigan's labor base.

The University of Michigan, one of the nation's pre-eminent research institutions, probably will put its grants to very good use. But can it create jobs? And can it create jobs in Michigan? MEDC itself has stressed forthrightly that U-M's culture never was adept — or even particularly interested — in turning the revelations of pure research into profit-making enterprises.

Let's face it, if MEDC funds strictly pure research, the results will become public knowledge. And such information seems just as likely to find venture financing and entrepreneurial incubation along the I-88 intellectual corridor west of Chicago as in the Washtenaw end of the I-96 Life Sciences Corridor.

Now, it's very bad science to conclude that because B happens after A that, therefore, A caused B. It would not be honest to conclude post hoc ergo propter hoc that the gross geographic disparity in MEDC grants results from Jennifer Granholm winning the gubernatorial election.

But considering Democratic Party linkages to southeast Michigan (including the People's Republic of Ann Arbor where the biggest fraction of grant money will be spent), it's difficult to avoid the impression that the new administration has begun politicizing MEDC.

MEDC was created to invest in job creation. But the governor's appointment of former politician and lobbyist David Hollister to head the agency indicates MEDC is as ably being used to invest in voter generation.

This is no surprise.

After all, one key argument against Gov. John Engler's proposal to create MEDC was that it might work well for a time, but inevitably some clever politico would find a way to use it to buy voter loyalty.

Far more important is business loyalty to Michigan. Businesses create jobs, and put us all on the road to a better economy.           

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