So many of us drive by the place on Union Avenue where Baptist Memorial Hospital once towered over everything near it and still imagine its iconic shape.
But the image is fading as new structures are filling in what was an open lot with a blanket of grass for many years after the hospital’s demolition.
The construction on that site and many others nearby helps to make a point that was easy to miss during the gap between the demolition and the sprouting of construction crews and cranes.
Medical centers are no longer places with lots of hospital beds and lots of workers to attend to them by methods and with medical advances made elsewhere.
Within the walls and structures that are going up now is the real economic growth that can sustain Memphis as a city with a purpose – with a mission.
That mission is all types of research into medical advances as well as practices. It is research that is already fundamentally changing the role of hospitals in our society.
If Memphis can make this transition to a research-centered environment where the theoretical is proven and applied to real health problems and challenges, the impact on our city’s culture goes far beyond what happens when men and women put on their lab coats and go to work.
Research is about collaboration and breaking down the kinds of barriers that have existed for far too long in the effort to tightly control what happens in Memphis and who does it.
Research institutions don’t recognize the principle of going local when they search for the best minds to push forward medical frontiers.
That’s not a putdown of the talent available in Memphis. It is a reminder of how valuable such research is and the global reach the research has.
It is also an indication that as we play catch-up to train workers for jobs that are just down the road, our efforts must consider a future further down the road.
That challenge will be more difficult because it involves education and training that allows people to be adaptable for demands that aren’t in full view yet.
It represents an open-ended commitment to a broader, better education that is more than good enough to land a specific job with a specific company.
So much of what is happening in education in our community now is about making up lost ground. It’s also about matching business leaders who are doing the hiring with the right employees and the right training.
All of that is our most challenging task as a community in the here and now. But we must always be preparing for what comes beyond what we can see on the horizon.
The ongoing building of the city’s research capacity is about breaking new ground.