As Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine embarks on a plan to expand in downtown Grand Rapids, officials point to the school’s growing physical presence as a sign that its economic impact continues to broaden.
The university is moving forward on an investment that could significantly grow its number of principal investigators performing scientific research on the city’s Medical Mile.
College officials recently announced that the institution is in the first phase of planning for a new biomedical research facility project to be built on the properties it acquired from the Grand Rapids Press last year.
With additional space, the college could recruit as many as 19 new principal researchers in addition to the 15 it has now, said Geri Kelly, communications director for the college.
“We would be recruiting new researchers right now, but we just don’t have the space,” said Marsha Rappley, dean of the College of Human Medicine.
With a current roster of principal investigators, the college is at capacity in the spaces it leases at Van Andel Institute and Grand Valley State University, Rappley said.
If the school were to add another 19 principal investigators to the Grand Rapids campus, that would translate into more than 150 new positions being created, according to university officials. Each principal investigator typically has a staff of up to four assistant researchers and up to four support staff.
Support staff perform tasks that range from grant writing to the institution review board process, Kelly said.
Kelly cautioned that even once an expansion is completed, the college isn’t likely to add all the new researchers at once, opting instead for an incremental hiring process over several years.
Additionally, the potential hires for the high-wage, high-skill jobs at MSU would likely bring new families to the area, which would have a significant economic impact on the downtown, said Kris Larson, president and CEO of the newly formed Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.
"Obviously, the Medical Mile has been an important ambition in the development of the city,” Larson told MiBiz. “Expansion of that means more high-wage jobs and additional opportunities to grow the medical sector and the reach of that economic niche in our city.”
From a very simple standpoint, the project means new life for a high-profile corner of downtown and a boost to the vitality of the immediate area, he said.
MSU’s College of Human Medicine increased research dollars by 24 percent based on the ability of its researchers to secure funding from the National Institutes of Health and other grants, Rappely said. Through its research initiatives, the college attracted more than $31 million in external research funds last year alone, and it currently employs 300 full-time faculty members and many support staff.
Having secured $75 million in funding from the NIH for a multi-year study, the College of Human Medicine also leads Michigan’s research efforts for the National Children’s Study, one of the largest human health studies ever undertaken.
The college has roughly 600 medical students enrolled in its programs, more than half of whom are women. The college hopes to expand to 800 students by 2014.
At the same time MSU is planning the next phase of its development, DGRI is also set to embark on its own 15-year planning effort.
While the initiative isn’t going to prescribe what growth sectors the city should pursue, it is important to recognize the opportunities in helping to grow the area’s core of biomedical research, Larson said.
“You can’t understate the direction Medical Mile has provided the community,” he said.