Health Culture Quickly Emerges

July 16, 2007
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Not so long ago, in another millennium, regional business leaders were stunned by studies and research that delineated an emerging economic evolution unceremoniously unseating the manufacturing sector, as the “service” sector surpassed it with “knowledge” workers. Some refused to believe the evidence of change; some prepared for it. The unbelievers, led primarily by Michigan’s automotive industry, could not imagine that so large an economic sector would be reduced — some still refuse to act in consequence, let alone create change. Planning for change would have been an admission of its likelihood. Such admissions — and the change itself — reverse financial dominance and political power.

Given that this news was already affecting work-force development and growth of new businesses on the West Coast, in the Research Triangle in the Carolinas and in ivy-covered towns on the East Coast, West Michigan business leaders were not the first to begin a plan to seed and develop such an economy. The time in which to create and cultivate those new opportunities was waning, and short.

The “emerging life sciences sector” now dominating business growth in West Michigan was, in large part, founded on the creation of the Van Andel Institute, a necessary component for the long-desired expansion of a medical school program in this community — or better, an entire medical school. As the riddle of the human genome was unraveled, the VAI opened. The construction and reconstruction of Grand Rapids’ entertainment district (including an arena and convention center) could not have been planned as much for the enjoyment of residents as much as it was to provide quality of life recruitment opportunities of those “knowledge” workers woefully missing from the Michigan landscape.

In an astoundingly short amount of time, community members have not only reconfigured the bricks of downtown but have managed crucial partnerships and investments that still are establishing the foundation for the future. There is some measure of that success to be found in this issue of Health Quarterly, which reflects on the diverse elements of the domino effect we can now begin to trace.

David Van Andel makes succinct points in regard to education in Michigan and the manufacturers that have “retooled” to make medical devices in his Vital Signs column in this issue. He then relates the news of the XB Bioinformatics System, a database identifying the unique genetic characteristics of cancers, a system created by the VAI scientists.

The new president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Medical Education and Research Center has pledged to assist the emergence of this area as a “central vehicle” for clinical research. As that develops, business owners such as Mark Meijer, founder and president of Life E.M.S. ambulance, can attest to the influence of health care professionals in Grand Rapids. Meijer notes that the company doesn’t have anywhere near the number of calls it once had to transport patients to larger medical centers in Ann Arbor or Detroit. In fact, the company is transporting far more patients, especially from the outlying suburban areas, into Grand Rapids. “We have certainly seen the increased capabilities of the health care service in West Michigan,” he said.

These pages also are dotted with reports of the increasing number of health care specialists in architectural, law and commercial real estate firms.

Of course, if we did not recognize the value of in-depth reporting on all areas of health professions, you wouldn’t be reading Health Quarterly.

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