With new jobs in health care being a bright spot in Arizona’s employment future, a major investment in the Phoenix Biomedical Campus of Northern Arizona University comes at an ideal time.

A $1 million gift from the Del E. Webb Foundation will allow NAU to build out more than 45,000 square feet of a modern health education facility where graduate programs in physician assistant studies, physical therapy and occupational therapy are flourishing and planning to expand.

“This generous investment gives NAU the capacity to grow our health professions enrollment at a critical time in Arizona,” said NAU President John Haeger. “New laboratory and academic spaces will also give us the flexibility to adapt to expand health professions education strategically.”

The Health Sciences Education Building opened on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in August 2012, hosting the NAU physician assistant and physical therapy programs in a building also used extensively by the University of Arizona Medical School. The NAU programs began with a combined enrollment of 49 that will reach 165 by fall 2014, when the first class of occupational therapy students will begin. By fall 2018, the three programs are expected to enroll 355 students. The $1 million gift will allow NAU to complete unfinished space in the building.

Larry Johnson, president of the Del E. Webb Foundation, said the size and scope of NAU’s programs in Phoenix influenced the foundation’s decision to make its latest gift. The foundation supports medical education, services and research, and over previous years has given $1.1 million to NAU’s College of Health and Human Services.

“The only things we do in this life that matter are the things that we do for each other,“ Johnson said.

The first class of 24 physician assistant master’s students will graduate in August as the number of admitted students doubles. The doctoral program in physical therapy has risen from an initial enrollment of 24 to a total enrollment of 90, and that number will continue to increase. Occupational therapy will begin with 24 students and plans to expand enrollment each year.

A recent economic analysis released by Arizona predicted that most of the state’s job growth in the coming years will be in the health care industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that in the decade 2010-2020, the category of health care practitioners that includes physician assistants, physical therapists and occupational therapists will grow by 25.9 percent.