Life Sciences: An Economic Lifeline

January 17, 2007
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It has been said that one must hit rock bottom before starting over.

Michigan, welcome to the bottom.

Various recent reports have painted the state in the bleakest of economic terms, from no one wanting to live here, to no one wanting to do business here, to no one being able to get a job here. Even the state of Wyoming is hosting job fairs here, looking to lure away more workers.

Despite the positive image and national goodwill created during President Ford’s funeral, the fact remains that when the rest of the world hears “Michigan,” it thinks “automotive.” And when it thinks automotive, manufacturing invariably comes to mind — followed shortly thereafter by any sequence of negative thoughts.

But if this truly is the bottom, then Michigan is ready to rebound.

Yes, manufacturing is struggling, but it’s also in the process of reinventing itself. It could also be said that West Michigan as a whole is reinventing itself, too.

Today’s Focus Section shines a spotlight on the life sciences industry. The story on page B1 is most encouraging in terms of economic development. Formation of a Life Sciences Pipeline has all the right ingredients for change.

A knowledge-based economy is crucial to the state’s recovery. Life sciences certainly falls into that category, and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. seems to be pulling all the right strings.

The MEDC last July selected MichBio, the state’s life sciences trade association, to develop a network linking life sciences researchers and businesses with vendors of life sciences products and services as a means of accelerating the commercialization of new health-related products and services in the state. The contract is for four years and is valued at $1.4 million over the life of the contract.

But if life sciences is truly the answer to the state’s economic woes, and none other than Van Andel Institute CEO David Van Andel has been saying so for years, then teamwork is the foundation upon which it will be built.

West Michigan’s business community is by nature a very private entity. The region’s work ethic dictates that to beat your competitor — fairly and squarely — you just have to outwork him.

Working together is a common trait among West Michigan residents. Sharing personal information with each other is not.

A region that is this competitive, steadfast, hardworking and proprietary is going to have to loosen up a little bit for the good of the team.

Product commercialization, research assistance, shared knowledge and innovation all are key components to the pipeline plan.

The sooner business leaders drop their guard and get on board, the sooner the state’s economic recovery can begin.

This is one lifeline worth grabbing.   

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