Focus, Health Care, and Manufacturing

Device makers collaborate for good of local industry

October 3, 2014
| By Pat Evans |
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Med Device consortium
Stryker Corp. is one of the better known medical device makers in the country and more than half of the region’s companies in that industry are suppliers to the firm. Courtesy Stryker Corp.

During the MichBio event last week in Detroit, Eric Icard hunkered down in a corner to find a quiet spot to talk, but also to utter the West Michigan Medical Device Consortium’s major goal.

The group of 130 or so medical device manufacturers want to be in the top 10 nationally among medical device manufacturing regions, said Icard, a business development manager at The Right Place Inc. and the organization’s facilitator for the consortium.

“It’s a lofty goal. We currently are No. 4 in the Midwest,” Icard said. “There’s a lot of work to do, but it’s a great goal to have. And it’ll be exciting to watch them grow together.”

The industry already has a leg up on the rest of the state, as it employs more than 40 percent of Michigan’s medical device professionals. With that type of concentration, it’s easy to see why it also is one of the state’s fastest-growing medical clusters, Icard said.

The region expects to enjoy a three-year growth rate of 13.81 percent in 2015, representing an increase of 2,571 jobs in 2012 to more than 3,000 by 2015, according to The Right Place. Life science jobs statewide were up to more than 42,700, according to data from MiDevice.

Icard said the design functionality of the local medical device manufacturing industry can be traced all the way back to when furniture was the lifeblood of the city, but he said the cross-over comes from a variety of industries that have helped the sector grow.

In particular, he cited the many companies that have changed or evolved after originally starting business in the automotive industry.

“A lot of it comes from this area’s ability to use high-tech and precision manufacturing techniques,” Icard said.

Aside from the medical device manufacturers, Grand Rapids offers a huge support system in the health fields. The companies, schools and hospitals calling the Michigan Street Medical Mile home will continue to help the device manufacturers grow, he said.

“It’s going to have a huge impact and it will carry over,” Icard said. “We’re very excited about the growth taking place there.”

West Michigan has seen more than $1 billion in medical investment and expansion in recent years, according to The Right Place. Another $2 billion is invested in life-science research and development each year, and the entire West Michigan life-science cluster is growing at a clip faster than national averages — by a lot. For example, when comparing West Michigan to the rest of the nation, the region is far ahead of its counterparts in several categories:

  • 27 percent in employment
  • 32 percent in companies
  • 165 percent in sales

Various support groups have popped up in the recent past, as well. GR Current helps incubate life sciences and emerging technology companies. The Right Place holds a variety of support groups and services, and its MiDevice is an organization dedicated specifically to the industry.

One of the leaders in the field is the Fortune 500 company Stryker Corp. The company was founded in 1941 and brings in more than $9 billion in annual revenue.

A well established company in an industry only helps fuel the growth of startups and supporting companies, Icard said. More than half of the region’s companies work with Stryker, mostly as suppliers.

“As they compete globally, that’s only going to help the West Michigan companies grow,” he said. “If Stryker wasn’t here, I’m sure the medical device industry wouldn’t be what it is today.”

There are still concerns throughout the industry about a 2.3 percent tax on sales on medical devices that went into effect earlier this year, however.

“Overall, I’ve heard a lot of panic,” Icard said. “But a lot of things have indicated it will be the opposite effect and business will actually increase.”

Icard might believe the goal of reaching the top 10 in national medical device clusters is lofty, but he still thinks growth for the region is inevitable.

“That’s the great thing about West Michigan,” he said. “You don’t have collaboration like this in other parts of the state. All the companies are opening their doors to each other to help.

“Everything I’ve seen points to growth.”

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