Economic Development, Health Care, and Sustainability

Report touts region’s innovation

West Michigan companies are in ‘vanguard’ of new products, services in sustainable sector.

May 11, 2018
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The Michigan Economic Center says Michigan is well-positioned to grow hundreds of businesses and tens of thousands of new jobs.

The organization’s “Jobs, Michigan, and Leadership in the Economy of Tomorrow” report said the state should focus on fast-growing sectors of energy, water, food, transportation, IT/communications and health care.

West Michigan historically has taken the lead in several innovation areas, said John Austin, the center’s director and lead author of the report.

He pointed to the creation of companies such as Whirlpool, Steelcase and the other furniture makers, Kellogg’s, W.E. Upjohn Institute and Meijer. He also pointed to significance in the health care field involving Spectrum Health and other organizations.

“Today, the U.S. and world economies are going through a new transformation centered on providing a fast-growing world population (and) sustainable solutions to meet their needs for food, energy, water, mobility, communications, health care and livable communities,” Austin said.

He said many of the area’s leading companies are in the “vanguard” of new products and services in the sustainable sector, such as Cascade Engineering, which is making products with biodegradable plastic.

“Most impressively, your business leaders are at the front of the 2030 District,” Austin said.

“That’s marking you all … as a leader in this green and blue economy of the future. That’s what young people want to be a part of. Grand Rapids is now emerging as a leader in this.”

Austin said many young workers from Michigan take jobs in cities such as Seattle because they want to work on “solving the problems of tomorrow.”

He said it is important for Michigan to show it is a forward-looking state.

“That sends really powerful messages that are attractive to young people and others that want to be a part of that work,” Austin said. “They want to participate in the work of solving the problems of tomorrow and today.”

The report makes specific recommendations on how to build on the skills of Michigan’s people and leverage innovation assets to seize these emerging market opportunities.

“Michigan has the assets to grow new businesses in emerging sectors, but it won’t happen magically,” Austin said. “Michigan needs a proactive state policy agenda that supports Michigan business winning in this century’s economy, as we did the last.”

The five recommendations include:

1. Repurpose existing state economic development resources to leverage over $1 billion dollars in new private and venture capital investment to translate the innovation, new technologies and business ideas discovered in universities and companies into new companies and jobs.

2. The state economic development strategy should facilitate and support corporate-university and public-private partnerships in emerging sectors to develop technologies that bolster the competitiveness of current companies and create new startups.

3. The state should support the build-out of university centers focused on water, food, energy, mobility, IT and health care to make Michigan the “global center of innovation in these fields” — and to spur new technologies, businesses and job growth.

4. The state and its communities should set ambitious goals for Michigan’s leadership in the emerging economy to stimulate market-driven private sector response and job creation.

5. Make potential polluters pay for expanded Pure Michigan funding and “green and blue” community placemaking by lifting caps and broadening uses of current natural resources, conservation and rural economic development funds.

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