Construction on the Riverpoint campus will conclude its first phase today, with the opening of the $80 million Washington State University Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences building.
It will be an event worth celebrating for Spokane, for Washington and for the other states in the region that can now look to the city as a center for medical education and research.
Nothing has so transformed Spokane over the last 20 years as those six buildings, starting with the former Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute. The title, since changed, seemed awfully aspirational then for a single structure on the edge of a wasteland cleared of railroad tracks and debris.
But the Phase 1 Classroom Building followed, bringing an influx of Eastern Washington University students. Then came the Health Sciences building, the Academic Center and the WSU College of Nursing. Total investment, including the rehabilitation of two other buildings, comes to $225 million.
From zero students, the campus has become a home to about 4,000 from WSU and EWU, many pursuing postgraduate degrees formerly unavailable in the city.
With completion of the Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences building, Spokane finally has the research university that was its most glaring deficiency in a world that depends on such institutions for the intellectual and entrepreneurial firepower that feeds a 21st century economy.
By one consultant’s estimate, the campus already generates $350 million in economic activity per year, $20 million more than projected just three years ago.
How does this multiplication work? Consider an announcement Thursday that the Health Sciences & Services Authority of Spokane County will award almost $2 million in grants to help support the work of three new researchers. They will bring with them more than $5 million in other grants and will employ at least 14 other scientists within the first year.
Another $1.4 million granted in 2011 has already returned 14-fold in additional money, according to HSSA, which is funded with 0.02 percent of local sales tax revenues.
Some of the research underway or incoming might lead to new medical therapies for the future. Near term, the Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences building becomes another resource for the first- and second-year medical students who will help the region fill a tremendous need for new doctors. The Northwest relies too much on physicians coming into the region from other areas. The more who can be trained in Spokane, and exposed to rural medicine during clerkships in Eastern Washington communities, the better the chance they will stick around.
Today’s ceremony culminates years of advocacy and visionary work by legislators in Washington, D.C., and Olympia, and university administrators, including those from the University of Washington, and local civic leaders from the public and private sectors. This is an investment that will pay dividends for generations.
And, in time, set the state for phase two, whatever that may be.