A lot of things may come to mind when you think of Arizona: the Grand Canyon, baseball’s spring training, cactus, retirees… But maybe now medical device manufacturing will be on that short list. According to a recent article in the Arizona Republic, almost 5000 Arizona residents are involved in making and designing medical devices. And the number of jobs in the medical device market in the state is growing—increasing 12.4 % since 2001. This number is growing, even as the national employment in the industry is declining.
So what’s driving this trend? There are a couple of main factors that contribute. First, is the presence of two large medical device companies. They are W. L. Gore in Flagstaff (www.gore.com) and Medtronic in Tempe (www.Medtronic.com). Another reason for the growth in medical device manufacturing in Arizona is the cooperation and collaboration of a number of colleges and universities.
Gore has consolidated its cardiovascular operations in Flagstaff. The company recently expanded operations by 32,000 sq ft and has nearly completed another 100,000-sq-ft facility. Plans for a second, similarly sized building are in the works.
Gore’s success has led to the establishment of start-ups in the area as well.
“If you look at a start-up technology company that has begun in Flagstaff, a good deal of the (founders) will have Gore on their résumé,” said Stephanie McKinney, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Flagstaff Economic Council, in the Arizona Republic article.
Two such company founders are Dan Kasprzyk and Thomas Motsenbocker of Machine Solutions Inc. (MSI; Flagstaff; www.machinesolutions.com). The company makes catheter and stent testing equipment. MSI has 70 employees in Flagstaff and plans to add 40 marketing, manufacturing, and engineering positions this year.
Both companies also rely on Northern Arizona University (NAU; www. nau.edu) for their staffing needs. More than a third of the science and engineering staff at Gore have some connection to NAU. Additionally, the university has developed more capacity in biomedicine to complement Gore’s expertise.
The other big medical device company in the state, Medtronic Microelectronics Center, has grown rapidly in the past three years. Because the company relies heavily on technical employees, it recruits from Arizona State University (ASU) and local colleges.
ASU trains its students to fill Medtronic’s needs, but it is also committed to assisting start-up companies and bringing new ideas to the marketplaces. ASU’s commercialization arm, Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE), works with the Biodesign Institute to identify research with commercial potential and seeks to engage industry in them. This includes licensing intellectual property to industry, partnering with local companies, or launching new ones.
In 2004, Biodesign researchers filed 17 new patent applications; launched three spin-out companies; and increased grant funding 30%, for a total of $15 million annually. Among the research discoveries being translated to commercial endeavors are new tests to diagnose diseases more quickly and accurately and the design of next-generation flexible electronic displays with multiple applications in medicine, industrial processes, and defense.