It is no secret that educational institutions and health care facilities play a huge role in the global economy. I travel a bunch for my job. Sometimes in planes, sometimes in trains, but mostly by car. On my journeys during our most recent recession I rarely saw a new large scale development that wasn’t connected to Eds & Meds. Now that the economy is picking-up and other industries are growing again, I continue to be amazed at the enormous impact that these two industries have on the landscape.
Unlike, say, big box retail, Eds & Meds are very city centric industries. While other enterprises often locate where there is an abundance of cheap land, Eds & Meds predominantly locate in city centers or in metropolitan areas. They do so because their success requires talented workers, economies of scale, access to infrastructure and other elements that cities uniquely furnish. This provides city leaders with enormous opportunities to leverage their own assets to create sizable economic developments.
The city of Grand Rapids is taking full advantage of the Eds & Meds opportunity before them. Beginning in 1996 with the establishment of a science and research facility, the ‘Medical Mile’ has expanded to include hospitals, clinics, R & D facilities, a medical school, residential units, commercial spaces, a hi-tech incubator, a hotel and more. The local community college and several satellite branches of 4-year universities have a presence in and around the area as well. I usually drive by ‘Pill Hill’ every month or so and more often than not I spot a new crane in the air signaling a future addition to the area. Thousands of high wage jobs have been created in industries that are as close to recession-proof as you can get in 2013.
The entire development is appropriately located, too. Placed (on a hill) adjacent to the highway, the enormous stretch of land sits a few blocks from the traditional downtown. Together the two areas act in concert with one another to create a healthy urban fabric that is equal parts historic buildings and cutting edge research labs.
City leaders can gain a lot from the Grand Rapids experience. The growth of the Eds & Meds sector is providing a shot in the arm for urban economies and older cities throughout the U.S. and the world. Taking full advantage of these opportunities is something that cities should rush to the tops of their ‘to-do’ lists.