Orthopedic industry continues growing - and meeting challenges - in Warsaw

June 6th, 2016

News Coverage:

June 2, 2016

Orthopedic industry continues growing - and meeting challenges - in Warsaw

Bob Caylor | News-Sentinel

The orthopedics industry has been an unrivaled driver of prosperity in Warsaw for decades, and demand shows no sign of dwindling as an aging population needs more replacement joints.

But there are risks and challenges the industry faces, too, from finding good hires to withstanding growing competition from rivals around the world.

“We’ve got the largest medical-device ecosystem – what some people call a cluster – in the world here,” said Sheryl Conley, president and CEO of Orthoworx, an economic-development group devoted entirely to the orthopedics industry centered in Kosciusko County.

How big an impact does the orthopedic business have in Kosciusko County? The two largest companies, Zimmer Biomet and DePuy Synthes, are well-known, world-scale competitors in the field, but the cast of competitors in the county is much larger than those two. A 2011 analysis by the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business said 17 orthopedic manufacturing firms exist in the county, employing a total of 6,800 workers, or 23 percent of the county’s total workforce.

To put that in perspective, only three communities in the United States – Orange County, Calif.; Minneapolis and Los Angeles – have more people employed making medical devices than Kosciusko County.

The 2011 report pointed out another element of the value this industry represents in Kosciusko County and the region: Average wages in the industry were more than $70,000 a year in 2009, which was $11,000 more than comparable jobs earned in the state as whole and $12,000 more than such jobs paid as a national average.

Conley said the boom in the orthopedic business really took off more than 30 years ago, when hip replacements began moving out of the realm of experimentation into a conventional treatment to improve people’s mobility.

A parallel expansion of the business is beginning, she noted. “More recently, we’re seeing shoulders and elbows” being replaced, she said. At each stage of this innovation, big players have looked to Warsaw, where the cluster of medical-device makers had demonstrated their expertise in precision design and manufacturing, using highly specialized metal compounds.

As more companies around the world delve into making replacement joints, northeast Indiana faces continuing pressure to hold down costs, she noted. At the same time, the local companies’ success and their aging workforces demand a steady stream of hiring.

The jobs are more than laymen might imagine factory work to entail. People who can program robots and other manufacturing equipment are in demand, but so are mechanical engineers. Those engineers don’t just design products; they also have to wring new efficiencies and quality improvements from manufacturing processes, Conley noted.

Materials scientists help develop new generations of implants. Regulations governing medical devices are, not surprisingly, strict enough that they require highly educated compliance officials.
Much of the workforce development that Orthoworx does amounts to curriculum development and persuading institutions ranging from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and Ivy Tech to Grace College that they and their students have opportunities in the region’s medical-device makers.

The companies – and the community that depends on them – all share a stake in carving out academic programs that meet the needs of the industry, “so that we can fill a lot of these jobs that are always coming open,” she said.
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