Med School Catalyst For Change

November 23, 2005
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The pact is signed: Michigan State University will begin its search for property in Grand Rapids on which to build a vast segment of its College of Human Medicine. The result of long and thoughtful study, the approach provides a deep foundation for the emerging medical, sciences and technology component of the regional (and Michigan) economy. The medical school for students who are directing their career path toward research is given tremendous impact working in concert with the Van Andel Institute, and students will likely give the VAI a boost. (Students pursuing more traditional physician roles — if such a thing still exists — will remain in East Lansing.) Heralding this triumph is not enough, given the tremendous long-term economic and social impact bequeathed this community. That said, the domino effect will spread widely, well beyond this region or state.

Another of the “components” was addressed last week, that of the Van Andel Education Institute, against the backdrop of VAI’s introduction of the community to economist Juan Enriquez, author of the best-selling book, “As the Future Catches You.” Enriquez led a panel discussion of area business and community leaders, which ultimately zeroed in on the crisis in Grand Rapids Public Schools, and what that means to everyone living in the region. The Grand Rapids, Steelcase and Frey foundations have been among the leaders of a vast community discussion giving measure to economic failures that are certain, should no progress be made in public education. Further, the group identified a specific “to-do” list providing solutions.

The impact of these very recent developments — or recent announcements— provides unprecedented community and business support and growth potential.

What do a concert and sports arena, a JW Marriott Hotel, Michigan’s only five-star restaurant, Michigan’s only professional ballet company, and an emerging academic community offering advanced degrees at a downtown campus have to do with it? Grand Rapids’ quality of life is perceived and experienced … and ready for the world-class customers, visitors and new residents attracted by a world-class research facility, and development of a science/engineering/technology hotbed.

The domino of that has already intersected with the manufacturing community, made most visible by X-Rite and its relocation to Kentwood, as well as manufacturers capably converting previous auto-related parts expertise to medical.

The impact of the MSU medical school alone is estimated by Deloitte Consulting LLP to be $1.57 billion and more than 2,835 jobs in the first 10 years. The ability of MSU to win dollars through federal research grants from the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute for the college here is further investment to be marked by this community. The medical school offers six specific emphases, including to ability to create “focused research” clusters, anticipated to provide research translation for faster diagnosis and treatments.

The most powerful element is that the school will be a cornerstone in West Michigan’s development as a center for life sciences commercialization.

The agreements announced this month are big. Really big. The long-term economic and social impact is almost unimagined.    

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