Panel Contends Health Care Should Be Viewed as Asset, Not Liability

By Staff Report

Jun. 4, 2010

Health care as economic development holds promise for Southeast Michigan and the state, said panelists at a session at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

But here’s the rub: While health care is well-recognized as one of the state’s leading job providers and a bright spot of growth amid Michigan’s economic downturn, what doesn’t get as much attention is the potential for health care investment to be a remedy for economic turnaround.

And it should, said health care officials during the event Thursday, June 3.

Some ideas:

• Have state pension funds invest in Michigan companies.

• Lure back talent that has left Michigan for out-of-state careers.

• Form a research triangle that stretches from Detroit to Houghton to Kalamazoo and encompasses many universities.

• Engage business leaders around health care.

Nancy Schlichting, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System, who came to Michigan 12 years ago after working in leading markets around the country, said that “everywhere I’ve been, except for Michigan, it was recognized in those markets that health care was truly an asset.”

In Michigan, she said, health care was looked at as a cost, a liability, and health care leaders weren’t viewed as business leaders.

She said a city’s educational and medical institutions, a combination called “eds and meds,” can anchor a community and provide stability.

Health care systems contribute jobs, help fuel the economy, hire highly educated and high-salary employees, and are major educators, Schlichting said.

For example, Henry Ford has gone from about 12,000 employees a decade ago to 23,000, is the 16th largest teaching hospital in the U.S. and has trained a third of the doctors in the state, and the “value of research and innovation I think cannot be underestimated,” she said.

“We are very excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. We think health care is inherent in that,” Schlichting said.

But she also said she hopes to see “more support from the business community, in recognizing the value that we bring.”

Mike Duggan, president and CEO of the Detroit Medical Center, said that while the business community is concerned about its health care costs, it hasn’t engaged providers like DMC and Henry Ford that “know more about holding down the cost of health care than anybody.

“We actually get the concept of keeping people well, keeping people out of the emergency rooms. But it doesn’t occur to anybody to knock on the door” and say they need help in containing their health care costs, although that may be starting to change, Duggan said.

Entrepreneur Jeffrey Williams, who has been the chief executive of several startup companies and is currently president and CEO of Ann Arbor-based Accuri Cytometers Inc., said that “there’s a very strong network of resources and assets in Michigan around health care.

“I believe that Michigan has most of what it needs to really create a very vibrant life science community, where you can get these young companies started and growing” to help diversify the economy, he said. Accuri makes desktop devices that automate cell analysis for researchers.

But Williams said three ingredients are important for the state to have: ideas, capital and talent.

In the first area, “there is no lack of ideas in Michigan,” he said.

But he also said companies are not cheap to start, and Michigan needs more capital. One idea might be an equity matching program, in which the state matches equity funds raised by a company, Williams said.

He said the “real big issue in Michigan is talent.”

Williams said Michigan should do more to recruit people who have left the state to find jobs and gain experience, bring them back here, “convert them to young companies,” and help build an industry in Michigan.

Chuck Perricone, former speaker of Michigan’s House of Representatives and now CEO of The Perricone Group, spoke on Southwest Michigan’s efforts to build an economy in both technology and life sciences.

He said the Kalamazoo region has hospitals that have distinguished themselves nationally, corporate success stories, three accelerators focusing on life sciences, and aggressive efforts under way to raise private and government capital for area growth.   

Filed by Amy Lane of Crain’s Detroit Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail


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