Van Andel investments worthy of focus for economic growth


The West Michigan world is buzzing with continued strength in the automotive sector — the best sales year since 2007 — and the auto parts supplier industry that continues to be the backbone of regional manufacturing in 2013. The Business Journal has given witness to expansions in this arena, from technological development to new investments in manufacturing of lightweight parts, advanced electronic systems and battery development.

The Grand Rapids region also has seen a massive investment in attempts to grow its life sciences sector, and, given the comparatively more significant return on that investment, it must be given greater emphasis for those growth opportunities. The most significant would be increases in household income averages for the region (and Michigan), and no economic factor is more helpful for growth possibilities, nor more “telling” about “place.”

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. notes that the life sciences industry includes health care, agriculture and the environment. It focuses on four clusters: 1) contract research and contract manufacturing organizations; 2) universities and technology transfer; 3) clinical trials — health care systems, clinical research facilities and expert clinical practitioners with the know-how to design clinical studies, recruit patients, assess drug candidates and help move them to market; and 4) research and development/research products: therapeutics, diagnostics, ag-bio, chemicals, food and nutrition, informatics, bio-based technologies and biofuels.

Those clusters have building blocks in downtown Grand Rapids at the Van Andel Institute.

Writing in this week’s Business Journal, VAI Chairman and CEO David Van Andel notes recent collaboration between the VAI, Saint Mary’s Health Care and Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon has “significant implications for strengthening the region’s capabilities and enhancing its reputation among the nation’s research and health care communities.”

Van Andel is referring specifically to expansion of a biorepository expected to have regional and national implications (especially through Saint Mary’s and Mercy’s national network by affiliation with Trinity Health). The biorepository is one of seven in the U.S. accredited by the College of American Pathologists.

Given these and other developments at the VAI and the build-out of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, The Right Place President and CEO Birgit Klohs indicates that her economic development agency plans to give greater focus to related collaboration and to the medical manufacturing industry in 2013 — a welcome pronouncement. The last MEDC study in 2009 showed little more than 79,000 Michigan residents working in the state’s life sciences industry. Since that time southeast Michigan has seen significant development in the infrastructure and expansion of the industry, primarily through investments by University of Michigan and Wayne State University.

Right Place Vice President Tim Mroz noted: “Since 2009, West Michigan’s medical device industry has experienced a 4 percent growth, compared to a national decline or fallout of -1.7 percent. Even more encouraging is the fact that this data only represents those companies in the region that have declared medical device manufacturing as their primary business. It does not count the many manufacturers in our region with medical device supply chain contracts additional to other industries they currently serve. This is why The Right Place is committed to supporting this growing industry cluster.”

The investments made are ready for a return and good leadership.

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