Research center seen as catalyst


The 162,800-square-foot, multi-story research center will occupy approximately half of the 7.85-acre site in downtown Grand Rapids. Photo by Rachel Weick

As the second research center in the downtown Grand Rapids area, the impact of Michigan State University College of Human Medicine’s new facility could create a ripple effect of economic activity.

MSU’s College of Human Medicine officially broke ground June 18 on the MSU Grand Rapids Research Center, at 400 Monroe Ave. NW, which is envisioned to not only anchor Innovation Park along the Medical Mile, but also create a biomedical research hub contributing to a positive economic impact on the region.

The Anderson Economic Group released “Economic Impact of the MSU Grand Rapids Research Center” on June 18, indicating the GRRC will have a positive impact on the Greater Grand Rapids area based on its contributions to building a biomedical research cluster, increasing employment, earnings and economic output.

Construction alone is expected to increase employment by approximately 728 job-years, equivalent to the number of people who work full time year-round to complete the project. It is also anticipated to increase earnings by $55 million and local spending by $96 million in the area. 

Patrick Anderson, principal, founder and chief executive officer at AEG, said the research facility is more than just one building and one set of jobs; it is something that is going to be a real catalyst.

“If you look at this, it is definitely a big win during construction, it is a terrific job creator during the operation, and it is an anchor for the future economy,” said Anderson.

“We haven’t even talked about the possible benefits of Innovation Park and the real long-term benefits here for Grand Rapids, Michigan State and the other partner institutions on attracting more and more attention to Grand Rapids.”

Alex Rosaen, director of public policy and economic analysis at AEG, noted that MSU’s College of Human Medicine didn’t build the building to create jobs in the region, but rather to help the world with long-term research and translational medicine, in a community that has been supportive in offering opportunities to partner with existing organizations.

“As it happens, when you undertake such a large project, when you build a big building and you fill it with very skilled, highly paid people, it does have an economic impact on the community,” said Rosaen, who co-authored the impact study.

At roughly 162,800 square feet, the research center will occupy about half of the 7.85-acre parcel in the downtown area that is just west of MSU’s College of Human Medicine’s Secchia Center facility. The multi-story research facility is meant to encourage scientific collaboration with its open, modular design, partial walls and moveable benches.

Dr. Peter Jones, research director and chief scientific officer for Van Andel Research Institute, said one of the things that brought him to West Michigan from California was the knowledge of the GRRC facility and the ability to collaborate with other scientists.

“I want to thank you on behalf of the Van Andel Research Institute for increasing the scientific footprint,” said Jones. “Scientists are like artists — they need to talk to each other, they need to work together, and that is what this is all about.”

The building will include research program space and will house five core labs: bioinformatics, flow cytometers, advanced microscopy, analytical and long-term storage. Areas of scientific study will be comprised of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, pediatric neurology, autism, inflammation, transplantation, cancer, genetics, and women’s health and reproductive medicine.

The research center can support 260 scientific research team members from MSU’s College of Human Medicine and up to 44 principal investigators.

“We have a conservative approach that only counts spending in the region, which we have reason to believe is really new to the area,” said Rosaen. “Once we figured out how much spending is in the area and how much employment is really new to the area, we think about multiplier effects.”

Rosalynn Bliss, 2nd Ward city commissioner, said MSU has been an excellent partner with the city and, through artful design and careful planning, the university is poised to deliver a research campus of mixed-use development that could equal or potentially exceed the impact of the research center.

“This all adds up to bringing incredible people to our amazing city, and it will have a ripple effect of supporting our downtown businesses, our cultural activities, and add to the vibrancy of our city core,” said Bliss.

“This work takes a big heart, and more than that, a big vision. MSU faithfully demonstrates both.”

AEG estimated the impact of operations during the GRRC’s peak start-up period of 2025 through 2028 could reach as high as 425 permanent jobs. When the facility opens in late 2017, the impact is expected to be at least half of its long-term employment impact.

During the period between 2025 and 2028, the direct impact of earnings is expected to reach $20.9 million and have an indirect impact of roughly $7.8 million.

As the second major scientific research facility in the area, Rosaen said the MSU GRRC will be a strategic asset for the city since it will create a burgeoning cluster.

“When you start to have more than one institution not all operated by the same people, you can start to have long careers in the Grand Rapids area in the life sciences research field, and by not working at the same institution, there can be cross-pollination between organizations, between the medical facilities, the multiple research facilities and the academic community,” said Rosaen. “The whole thing has these positive feedback loops. It draws the rest of the world’s interest, talent and supply chains here.”

Steve Heacock, senior vice president of public affairs at Spectrum Health, said Spectrum was an early partner with the MSU medical school to bring it to Grand Rapids because they believed it was the keystone to the archway of success.

“Not only in a biotech economy that is coming but also in the training and gathering of students and physicians to advance medicine to help people,” said Heacock. “While we have achieved greatness in the last 10 years, we are on the cusp of something amazing.”

Bill Manns, president of Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, said the groundbreaking marks a new era for the community.

“It represents everything that is emblematic of this community: the sense of coming together, the sense of collaboration and the sense of partnership,” said Manns. “You think about the multiplier effect, the impact on medical research, translational medicine from bench to bedside — it is absolutely huge.”

Potential contributing factors to the long-term economic impact include the attraction of research and development firms and entrepreneurial companies to the area, the attraction of highly educated and skilled talent, and the commercialization of intellectual property generated by principal investigators.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Dr. Marsha D. Rappley, dean of the MSU College of Human Medicine, said it is an exciting moment to take the next step forward.

“It is gratifying to think we could create this vision here that would allow people to join us, even the people who might have been skeptical at first, and drive it forward. This has a momentum that is beyond me; this has a momentum that is beyond any of our institutions. We have always talked about what we could do together is so much greater than what we do as individual institutions, and we have that physical evidence going up soon on this site.”

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