Health care boom fuels area economy

February 24, 2009
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(Editor’s note: Capital News Service recently explored the growing life sciences and medical community in Grand Rapids. This is the CNS report issued statewide).

LANSING — While legislators and Gov. Jennifer Granholm work to create an economic turn-around, the city of Grand Rapids is bringing good news to the state.

“There is a certain uniqueness in the Grand Rapids region,” said Rep. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell. “We have long-time community members and leaders that are invested in the community and who give their time, money and resources to help that area.”

A compilation of medical facilities on Michigan Street referred to as the “Medical Mile” is intended to put the city on the map as a leader in health research and development. An estimated $1 billion investment in the city has been funded with the help of wealthy, long-time residents and health care associations such as Spectrum Health and the Van Andel Institute, which researches cancer.

“We are looking at what we can do to create a better business atmosphere,” Hildenbrand said. For example, the Grand Rapids area is looking into opportunities to support industries other than automotive, he said. For West Michigan, that means attracting medical and health professionals.

Spectrum Health, which already operates seven hospitals in West Michigan, is expected to help fund three of the five major projects for the Michigan Street stretch. One of its largest endeavors is the DeVos Children’s Hospital. Anne Veltema, public relations coordinator DeVos, said the children’s hospital is currently a hospital within a hospital.

“It occupies certain floors of Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital,” she said, “But the new facility — opening in 2011 — will be a stand-alone building.”

Veltema also said that the new hospital is expected to create about 150 positions, not including the wealth of construction jobs it has already generated. The hospital will be devoted entirely to pediatrics, and comes as a result of a $5 million donation from Richard and Helen DeVos of Grand Rapids. Richard DeVos Sr. is the co-founder of Amway Corp. and former finance committee chair for the Republican National Committee.

But long-time residents aren’t the only people interested in being a part of the expansion.

The College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University is constructing a $90 million campus, the Secchia Center, on the Medical Mile. Although degree-granting programs will still be offered in East Lansing, the bulk of research and development is expected to take place in Grand Rapids, according to the college.

The Secchia Center, named for MSU alumnus and GOP political activist Peter Secchia, comes as a result of $40 million in private donations. Spectrum Health has also donated $55 million toward payment of university-issued bonds.

According to Kara Wood, director of economic development in Grand Rapids, the city expects to gain 2,350 jobs in research and development from the new district.

Although most of the new facilities on the Medical Mile are nonprofit, Wood said the city will still gain a significant amount of revenue from income taxes paid by new employees.

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