Growing industry wants to move up to the big boys table

May 21, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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Don Beery predicts we are going to “have some fun” in West Michigan over the next few years, because “there’s just a lot of entrepreneurship going on right now.”

As executive director of the West Michigan Medical Device Consortium, Beery feels the Great Recession is behind us now, which he says leaves him with a “palpable” sense of budding entrepreneurship in the region. He is convinced the region’s entrepreneurs are going to generate more new businesses, and there will be expanded activity for those already in business.

“The time is right to do some really cool things in this area, and there are people all over the place focused on this, not just me and our group.”

The medical device entrepreneurs he works with, though, are indeed growing.

Keystone Solutions, headquartered in Kalamazoo, experienced 55 percent growth in 2011, compared to 2010 — and 2010 was a record setter. A small company with only about two dozen employees, Keystone is a medical device manufacturer and also a product developer that helps client companies take products from the idea stage through manufacturing, and then to market.

When formed in the late 1990s it was primarily an automotive company, but has since expanded into other fields including aerospace, life sciences and medical devices. That’s why it joined the WMMDC.

MedBio specializes in medical injection molding. It had 43 employees in 2011 but will have 59 in 2012. The company grew 30 percent in the last two years, according to Beery, with expected additional growth of 20 percent this year. Last year MedBio moved to a new facility on 36th Street that doubled its production floor space.

Autocam Medical, which has its global headquarters in Kentwood, manufactures high-precision medical implants, instruments, handpieces and components. Last year, Autocam attained Brazilian VISA Certification and recently opened a contract manufacturing site in São Paulo to produce precision-machined surgical implants and instruments, including bone screws, plates, drivers and drill bits. In addition, it developed a strategic alliance with U.S.-based Jewel Precision to manufacture, sell and distribute surgical trays and cases throughout South America.

“Because it’s one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, the opportunity in Brazil is enormous,” said Thomas O’Mara, executive vice-president of Autocam Medical. “Our São Paolo operation supports our local customers and also helps grow our global business.”

Autocam Medical will be exhibiting at the Orthopedic Manufacturing and Technology Exposition and Conference in June in Chicago, a global event in that industry.

One of the largest companies that is a member of the WMMDC is ATEK Medical, based in Grand Rapids with additional manufacturing sites in Minneapolis, Kerrville, Texas, San Jose (Heredia), Costa Rica. Its thousands of employees produce more than 150 million medical plastics components each year, and the company has launched more than 400 medical devices.

The WMMDC was set up in 2007 by the West Michigan Science and Technology Initiative to promote and support the growth of medical device manufacturing in West Michigan. Beery, who was named executive director last summer, said 29 companies are members of an estimated 40 such companies in the region.

Total employment in the region in medical device development and manufacturing is estimated at 2,500, according to Beery, but expected to grow to 2,900 in a few years.

The West Michigan region is ranked fourth in the Midwest in the number of medical device suppliers. Those companies are producing electronic devices, plastic injection moldings, doing product development and design, precision machining, developing automated equipment, health care product packaging and distributing to the medical industry.

Michigan medical device companies have seen recent employment growth of more than 25 percent and sales growth of more than 150 percent, according to Beery.

He said a recent survey of the consortium members regarding their  views of 2012:

** 93 percent expect to grow

** 40 percent expect to grow at least double digits

** 20 percent expect to grow 21 percent or more

** 90 percent plan to hire in 2012 (50 percent will hire 4-10 workers, 10 percent will hire 11 or more)

** 78 percent view the medical device industry as positive or very positive over the next three years, and none predict it will decline.

According to a report by The Lewin Group Inc., medical device jobs in Michigan paid 22 percent more than average wages, and Michigan has the third highest medical device jobs multiplier in the country at a factor of 3.5.

Beery joined the consortium with more than 20 years of private sector experience focused on product development and product commercialization, including 12 years with Johnson Controls. He is the co-inventor of one technology patent with three additional patents pending.

After earning a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Michigan Tech in 1989, the Holland native went to work for The Design Forum, an architectural firm in Grand Rapids, where his job was designing electrical systems for commercial buildings. After a couple of years he joined Prince Corporation as an electrical engineer — then his career took a different route.

“Early in my career, I was handed an opportunity to migrate from an engineering role into a business development role,” he said. Prince asked him to become its first sales manager for the company’s electronic products portfolio.

“It wasn’t something I was looking for, but it has turned out to be my thing,” he said.

That “thing” is motivating cross-functional teams toward sales objectives, even though the team members do not report to him.

In 2001 he was named manager of commercial development at what had become Johnson Controls, and in 2002 he became director of that function. Beery left Johnson Controls in 2008 and joined the Fleetwood Group, Inc. in Holland as director of new business development. Fleetwood develops wireless electronic devices for schools and hospitals.

Beery says his 20 years of corporate experience at Johnson Controls was good conditioning for the role he has at the WMMDC. He said he has developed an ability to get others enthused and excited about taking on a new, broader challenge.

Beery’s position at the WMMDC is actually part-time, but he also has a consulting business, Blendon Group Consulting, he is building. Blendon Group helps start-ups as well as mature companies with technology product marketing and business development.

But the consortium beckons. There, the challenge is to achieve what he calls “a big, hairy, audacious goal” — build the scope and recognition of the medical device industry in West Michigan to the point where it is considered to be among the top five medical device hubs in the country.

“We’re in the top 20 (now), for sure,” he said, but that’s not good enough.

“When somebody rattles off Boston, Minneapolis and California” as medical device hubs, “we want to be on that list,” said Beery.

He has formed an executive team representing the consortium companies that has been working for several months on the organization’s vision and strategic plan for the future.

“We are about to take the wraps off that and get it into the marketplace, about who we are and how we contribute” to the region’s economy, he said.

The focus at the WMMDC is “building some visibility and exposure for the industry. That’s number one.

“Number two; we intend to look at ways to expand our scope and our reach more broadly into the medical device industry, and maybe even expand our geographic footprint.

“I think, more than ever, the timing just feels really good right now. We have an important role to play,” said Beery.

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