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Partnership shows off area’s medical device industry

May 18th, 2012

News Coverage:

Partnership shows off area's medical device industry

RICK FARRANT - rfarrant@fwbusiness.com

Friday, May. 18, 2012 at 5:35am

The light breakfast fare on a counter in the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership conference room was accompanied by a box with this invitation "Enjoy These Quality Products - Made Here."

Inside the box were a jumble of food items, including Kraft caramels, Nathan's chili-cheese crunchy crinkle fries, T.G.I. Friday's potato skins and DeBrand Fine Chocolates.

"This is a real blessing for us to get your time," NEIRP President and CEO John Sampson said as he began an informal address to a group of visiting journalists seated around the conference room's table. "I know you've traveled from other places to be with us.

"I can tell you from the regional partnership standpoint we've been waiting for years to be at the point where people could write a news story about what's going on in northeast Indiana. And we think we have a story that is worth writing about."

Thus began a two-day unveiling of northeast Indiana's growing medical device industry for six national and international trade publication journalists.

The courting of the journalists - which included discussions with local economic development leaders and visits to medical device manufacturers - provided a snapshot of the tone and transparency employed when local leaders sell the region. It also anecdotally provided evidence of the region's effectiveness in marketing. It was the second such media tour in the last five months involving trade publications, both of them arranged by the partnership and Indiana Michigan Power.

Elizabeth Modic, managing editor of four Ohio-based online and print trade publications, participated in the latest tour and said learning about the region's talent retention, attraction and training efforts was particularly helpful.

Indeed, many of the questions asked by the journalists during their stay focused on work-force development. And Joe Jancsurak, editor of the Cleveland-based print and online magazine Medical Design, went so far as to say northeast Indiana's focus on work-force development and educational initiatives seemed to have "more muscle behind it" than some other areas of the country.

"I was impressed with the technologies that we were made aware of," he said, "the entrepreneurial spirit that we got a sense of and the level of cooperation among the various agencies."

Modic planned to include mention of northeast Indiana's work force development initiatives in American Manufacturing, an online and iPhone-app publication that serves North and South America. Jancsurak planned to do an overview article covering training and other education efforts in the region.

Both Modic and Jancsurak believe the marketing effort directed toward them and other journalists has the potential to attract businesses to northeast Indiana.

"I think they will if they have the right mix of journalists," Modic said. "Our readers are OEMs, and they want to know where they might locate or outsource their work."

Before Modic and the five other journalists ventured to area medical device manufacturers during their May 9-10 visit, they were given a brief summation of the industry cluster and local economy by John Stafford, director of the Community Research Institute at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Stafford told them about Fiscal Times ranking the Fort Wayne metropolitan area No. 1 in job growth two months in a row in 2011; about the region's gross domestic product returning to pre-recession levels; and about the estimated 40 medical device makers employing more than 2,600 people in the 10 partnership counties.

Medical device employment rises to about 9,500, Stafford said, when Kosciusko County's orthopedic sector is included.

The journalists later got a chance to visit and speak with executives at some of the region's medical device companies, including Iotron Industries Canada/USA in Columbia City and LH Medical Corp. in Fort Wayne.

LH Medical served as an example of the growth of the local medical device industry. Its 46-year-old parent company, LH Industries, formed the medical division five years ago and the one-time startup now has 70 employees and $12 million in annual sales, according to LH Industries President and CEO Bruce Emerick.

Emerick told the journalists that LH Medical, which provides medical devices for such heavyweights as Zimmer Holdings Inc., Biomet Inc., DePuy Orthopaedics Inc. and Stryker Corp., is fortunate to be in an area that has "been very conducive to growing and expanding" and has a rich talent pool.

That perspective - and the journalists' strong interest in the region's work-force development efforts - fit perfectly with Sampson's recurring pitch the past few years.

"This region," he told the journalists, "has identified that (work-force development) is going to be our distinguishing characteristic in terms of our competitive advantage in the global marketplace. We know and understand that if we're not able to develop, attract and retain talent in this region, we have no basis to compete on a global scale."

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