Seeds Sprout From Opportunity

May 14, 2007
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The manufacturing age mentality remains so imbedded in thinking patterns and assessments that it impedes the present and future.

The MichiganStateUniversity announcement last week that it intends to develop a former Pfizer facility in Holland as a bio-research center was welcome news, but not because it will seed hundreds of new jobs (which is in a domino effect over the long term).

The $50 million building gift from Pfizer is one cause for celebration, but the greatest ramification is the investment MSU and the business community is willing to make in the facility. Even as start-up funding is calculated and sought in the public/private partnerships defining this region, the development as a research facility with commercial application and business incubator is certain to attract outside interest — and investment, becoming a portal for all three areas of interest.

It was not necessary for Lakeshore Advantage President Randy Thelen to gauge the interest; the interested poured into his office and to the press conference held to announce the deal. “Two bio-economy companies in the area asked if they could have space in the facility. We had a handful of calls from entrepreneurial-type, established companies that want to have access to the center and maybe even access to the equipment in the center,” Thelen told the Business Journal. The Holland Sentinel reported that Herman Miller’s bio researchers, ever vigilant for “green” materials development, were among those expressing interest.

The “green” aspect of such research is another of the stated goals to continue to seek out diversity in the Michigan economy. Former General Motors Chairman and CEO Robert Stempel (an MSU alumnus) last week also made such pronouncements to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids. Stempel now owns Energy Conservation Devices Inc. and is bullish on the “hydrogen economy” now powerfully presenting itself. Stempel’s company already has purchased two facilities in Greenville where he expects to employ 200 people. Another of Stempel’s points in regard to impact in the U.S. economy was emphasis on the patent protections provided in the U.S. (And dare we say Stempel’s interest in West Michigan is by itself likely to be a draw.)

MSU is exactly the right educational institution with which to partner. Its long, storied history in agricultural sciences (among others) is but one piece of the developments upon which it expects to expound. Coupled with Michigan’s domination in forestry and natural resources, this particular deal seeds that economic growth.

GrandValleyStateUniversity’s research center in Muskegon, biodiesel pioneer Crystal Flash, even the city of Grand Rapids’ experiment with left-over frying oil from restaurants to fuel diesel-powered city vehicles: All are pieces of what Stempel regards as the present and the future.

It is not as much about the number of jobs (in a labor force of dwindling population) at this point; it is about the investments.      

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