Mind Field Can Be Cultivated By Investors

May 6, 2003
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The decision last week that consolidates Pfizer research operations is good news for investors but tough for West Michigan. The world leader in pharmaceuticals is moving more than 1,500 people from research jobs in Kalamazoo and Holland to Ann Arbor. For purposes here, however, it is important to note that regional economic development teams and governmental leaders are not standing idle while bemoaning the facts.

West Michigan is undoubtedly affected for the long-term not only by Pfizer’s decision but also by the “brain drain” in the worst recession ever seen in the office furniture manufacturing industry. But it comes at a time when the business world is reshaping in the Information Age, a time in which innovation and creativity are producing businesses and jobs inconceivable just a few years ago. And West Michigan remains a “hotbed” of entrepreneurial spirit.

It is fertile ground for investors and much can be done to encourage such investment. Likewise, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and Southwest Michigan First, both reported to be discussing the possibility of creating a regional venture capital fund, should move forward quickly, avoiding the typical slowness of bureaucracy, and it should include The Right Place Inc.

Apart from entrepreneurial investment, these recent developments leave a rich “mind field” of leadership for existing businesses, which may now look at an improving economy as the right time to branch out or innovate.

Colleges and universities have a role in such endeavors with the ability to further academic development through commercial applications. Previously thought to be two worlds that did not mix, the University of Michigan’s push in such areas provides example. Would/could researchers consider start-up companies? Few believed there would be many takers in the academic world, but branching out is common in this region. The white-collar and tech job layoffs provide business skills that complement and assist those lacking such acumen.

The esteemed work of the researchers at the Van Andel Research Institute also will have a positive, long-term impact on the development of such companies and the eventuality of a West Michigan Pfizer investment that is targeted more specifically to VARI’s work.

Grand Rapids Business Journal reported in the April 21 issue VARI scientists had uncovered two proteins that work together to trigger the spread of cancer, and initial steps toward a pharmaceutical product that could prevent such activity.

The future of West Michigan is in many ways being invented, and as such offers some of the best “ground floor” investment possibilities this region has seen in quite some time.    

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