Economic milestones exceeding expectations


    The weekend just past may mark a historic blending of events akin to a kaleidoscope — and tremendous energy in downtown. Fashion Night Out (celebrated in 15 countries) brought together 50 local retailers and a mob of fashionistas as Celebration on the Grand marked 30 years in a weekend-long celebration of progress in the quality-of-life quotient.

    The first year of Celebration marked the opening of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. That progress is measured this year in the community celebration and open house of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine/Secchia Center, even as festivities continue this week.

    Ten years ago, a medical school in Grand Rapids had more doubters than supporters. Its fruition is monumental and provides testimony once again to public and private partnerships, compromises in many separate agendas, and resolution of thousands of details, including the cooperative efforts of area hospitals. It provides a pinnacle for education efforts in this community.

    The medical school is not just a story about students and the elevation of education. When the school was first proposed, Grand Action funded an economic impact study from Deloitte. It is safe to say the end result is more extraordinary than first conservatively estimated, especially if one adds the unanticipated impact of its neighbor, the Van Andel Institute, which is in the process of recruiting another 500 scientists and researchers. The medical school in its own right will attract significant new funds, primarily used to create research and support jobs, according to the Deloitte study.

    Beyond the jobs for physician teachers and researchers and the staff they hire, the domino effect adds at least another 2,800 jobs in the community. The domino envelopes professional business services, the retail sector, new commercial development, construction, home sales and many other business and employment sectors. Some measure of that impact already is causing headaches for city planning staff, as indicated in the story on page 1. Planning Director Suzanne Schulz reported that the traffic of more than 30,000 cars a day in the Michigan Street Corridor continues to swell and “some intersections are close to failure.”

    But the impact measured by Deloitte reaches beyond Michigan Street, rippling throughout Kent and Ottawa counties. The study showed an increase in sales of $1.57 billion; total personal income increases for county residents of nearly $1 billion; and sales and local taxes amounting to $61 million.

    The medical school’s Dean Marsha Rappley noted last week in Grand Rapids Business Journal that as the school goes about hiring teams of physicians and investigators, “we get interest from people around the world. … These calls are coming in; these are the calls we have received. It’s a whole new level of national and international visibility.”

    It is indeed a time for celebration.

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