As the state’s auto industry continues to crumble, public universities in Michigan are creating their own bailout for the state’s deteriorating economy.

Despite the nation’s unemployment rate hitting 7.2 percent in December, the highest it has been in 16 years, and Michigan’s unemployment rate at 9.6 percent, the highest jobless rate in the country, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University have managed to create thousands of new jobs with the development of new research facilities.

With the $108 million purchase of the 174-acre Pfizer Inc. research facility, the University aims to create 2,000 new jobs within the next decade.

Ann Arbor has a 6 percent unemployment rate, which is the lowest in Michigan.

Donald Grimes, a University researcher and Michigan economy expert, said the Pfizer purchase means Ann Arbor will likely experience economic stimulation in the coming years.

“The reason Ann Arbor is doing better is that it’s got a better mix of industries in terms of laying people off,” Grimes said. “You have a stronger employment mix in terms of more stable jobs with jobs at the University, the health care industry and also some in information technology.”

Grimes said the Pfizer purchase will provide jobs and opportunities for students in the biotechnology field and people involved in the development of the project.

“It is a very good gamble in terms of economic growth,” Grimes said.

Dr. Jim Woolliscroft, dean of the University’s medical school, said the development of the Pfizer campus will promise jobs for scientists and researchers, and provide space for University faculty, staff and students involved with biotechnology.

“Well, I think this is going to be a phenomenal place for students to learn,” Woolliscroft said.

Woolliscroft also said the University has plans to use some of the space for research from private sponsorships, but added that these partnerships have yet to be determined.

Jesse Bernstein, the president of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce, said that although the Pfizer purchase will mean a short-term loss of tax money for the city, in the long term, the University’s purchase will be beneficial for the region and the state.

“It’s just going to enhance the effectiveness of the University as an economic generator. It will become a magnet for researchers in the life science and biotechnology areas,” Bernstein said. “It’s going to have a huge impact on the state for spin-off research in Detroit, Lansing, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.”

But while Ann Arbor has fared better than most other cities in Michigan, the University is not the only institution doing its part to stimulate economic growth.

At Michigan State University, the creation of the $550 million Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, a new research laboratory awarded to MSU by the U.S. Department of Energy, is expected to create 400 high-paying jobs according Dr. Michael Boulus, executive director of the President’s Council of State Universities of Michigan, which represents the state’s 15 public universities.

“We are the economic engine,” Boulus said. “This is research that can lead to new businesses and thousands of new jobs. There’s a public university network in Michigan like no others.”

According to an analysis by the Anderson Economic Group on the economic impact of the FRIB, the new facility will generate over $1 billion in economic activity over the course of its first 10 years in operation.

Konrad Gelbke, who will lead the MSU team to establish FRIB, said the facility will be one of the most advanced research laboratories for nuclear science and astrophysics in the country and attract members of the scientific community to the region.

“We estimate that there will be hundreds of users to visit the laboratory and run the experiments. They will stay here for extended periods of time in the Lansing area,” said Gelbke, deeming that it will become, “a little like a tourist industry.”

Gelbke also said the lab will run scientific meetings and conferences that will bring researchers and scientists to the area and lead to the development of new products and technological innovations.

“Whenever you have an assembly of smart and competent people, (there is) the development of new products and technical applications that they can spin off into new companies,” Gelbke said.

Boulus added that it was important for the state’s universities to create jobs to keep recent graduates in Michigan, citing a trend that has been problematic in recent years.

“We need a more educated workforce to fill the openings for the jobs of today and tomorrow. It’s about growing and retaining talent in Michigan,” Boulus said. “We can’t turn it around by ourselves. We need the help of the state. We’re losing jobs and the first thing we got to do is create new industries that requires young talent, educated talent.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.