Jobs And Talent Provide Strength To This Area's Development

February 6, 2008
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A few weeks ago Grand Rapids Business Journal staff reviewed an entire year of business news to examine 10 activities that had the most significant long-term impact in the regional economy.

Concentrating 10 significant events into one review has a significant “wow” factor. The Business Journal has been compiling such lists as a new year begins for 16 years, and requests the observations of economic analysts in its review. Most recently we invited former Gov. John Engler’s Michigan Economic Development Corp. president Doug Rothwell and Ann Arbor-based Michigan Future Inc. President Lou Glazer to look at the project list. Rothwell is currently president of Detroit Renaissance economic development group.

The list of 10 included: 1) Ashley Capital’s purchase of 206 acres of abandoned Steelcase property in which it invested $160 million, obtained purchase options from two major tenants and created roughly 200 jobs by the end of ‘07. 2) Creation of the Center for Molecular Medicine, a joint venture between Spectrum Health and Van Andel Institute, in an effort to enhance specific DNA and RNA research of an individual patient and the patient’s disease that will result in specific, individual drug therapies; commercial applications have already generated more than $1 million in new revenue. 3) Expansion of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority boundaries by 370 acres, in hopes of leveraging additional private investment that already has amounted to more than $1 billion in or near the old boundaries. 4) Grand Haven’s new Grand Landing project (updated in this issue of Commercial Quarterly), which has created a resort village in what was a 20-acre eyesore. 5) The largest single investment in downtown Grand Rapids in 2007, the JW Marriott, which added more than 300 new jobs. 6) The Metro Health Village “green” campus, now potentially a $1 billion development overall creating thousands of new jobs. 7) The Michigan State University Bioeconomy Research and Commercialization Center in Holland, which focuses on new bioeconomic industries. 8) More than $184 million in private investment in the city of Muskegon, concentrated in the renaissance of the downtown area and along Muskegon Lake. 9) The merger of Muskegon’s Hackley Health and Mercy General hospitals to form a regional health care destination. 10) The expansion of the Van Andel Institute, creating 400 new research jobs in expanded areas of study in cancer research and in Alzheimer’s disease.

Both Rothwell and Glazer said “Wow.” Glazer added, “It’s clear evidence West Michigan is diversifying its economy beyond its traditional manufacturing base.” Rothwell noted, “Five of the top 10 … were related to life sciences and health care. The three life sciences initiatives demonstrate the continued resilience of a sector that has long been identified as a major growth engine for the state. These projects underscore how important it is that we continue to focus on cultivating the growth of this sector through university-business partnerships and aggressive state and local economic development policies.”

But the pair disagreed as to which — if only one — project had more impact than another. Rothwell argued that in the “chicken and egg” argument of the new economy, jobs still precede retention and recruitment of new economy workers. Glazer argued, “Data are clear from across the country that it’s talent concentrations that are most correlated with high prosperity (high per capita income).” Glazer believes the projects in Muskegon and Grand Haven and the expansion of the Grand Rapids DDA will help draw the “talent sector.”

Dare we note: West Michigan has a foot firmly in both worlds. And that is worth noting. CQX

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