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Regional recruiters: states with growing life sciences and medical device clusters are honing their messages to lure business from the nation's traditional medtech strongholds.

Nearly a decade ago, Jennifer Bosser was living an enviable professional life in Washington, D.C., managing a reputable economic development group and hob-knobbing with local politicians and corporate executives to develop business retention programs. Bosser loved the job--particularly the schmoozing; in less than three years, she built an extensive network of business contacts and was considered well-connected in local economic development circles. Bosser easily could have advanced her career there.

Such a professionally privileged existence, however, usually comes at a price--an invaluable one as Bosser would later realize. During her tenure with the Washington, D.C., Economic Partnership, Bosser lived in Springfield, Va., a densely populated District of Columbia suburb that was founded as a station of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad in 1847. The census-designated locale is situated roughly 12 miles southwest of downtown Washington, D.C., accessible through the interchange of I-95, I-395 and the Capital Beltway, otherwise known as I-495 (area residents refer to the convergence of highways as the "Mixing Bowl" or "Springfield Interchange"). The crossroads is one of the nation's busiest highway junctions, accommodating about 430,000 cars per day.

For several years at least, Bosser's vehicle was a regular contributor to the glut of automobiles using the interchange. She became a reluctant participant in that notorious Washington metropolitan area traffic--the rush-hour bottlenecks, the end-of-the-workweek tie-ups and maddening weekend gridlock that can both frustrate and aggravate even the most laid-back drivers. Bosser was caught in a cruel commuter paradox of living geographically close to her Pennsylvania Avenue job but just far enough away to turn an otherwise simple daily jaunt into a 90-minute (one-way) ordeal.

Bosser had basically two ways of getting to her job--driving to a commuter lot and carpooling with three other suburban migrants or taking a train into the city, hopping on the Metrorail and then walking several blocks to her office. The traffic eventually became so intolerable for Bosser that she rarely left the city during the evening rush hour. "I would go somewhere after work not because I wanted to, but because I didn't want to sit in traffic," she recalled.

Bosser's frustration level with D.C.-area gridlock (traffic, not politics) peaked in the fall of 2003, during a weekend trek to vineyards in Middleburg, Va. The destination was not a far drive, but traffic sidelined Bosser's plans, turning a relaxing day of wine-tasting into an expedition in futility. Bosser and her husband never made it to the vineyard; they wound up at a local mall, peoplewatching, while waiting for the traffic to clear.

For Bosser, that mined weekend trip marked a turning point in her life. Motivated partly by restlessness, discontent and a desire to start a family, Bosser and her husband already were considering moving out of state, but the couple wasn't convinced that relocation would make much sense.

After their people-watching excursion, however, the couple realized that staying put made no sense at all.

In less than a year from that fateful mall junket, Bosser and her husband had ruled out cities in the North (too cold in the winter and too congested all year-round), the West (too far from family) and the Deep South (too wary of outsiders). They found a winner 220 miles away in Raleigh, N.C., where Bosser now works as assistant executive director of Wake County Economic Development, the agency responsible for attracting business to Wake County, N.C.--home to North Carolina State University, Research Triangle Park, and 2006 Stanley Cup Champions the Carolina Hurricanes. Bosser specifically is charged with boosting the region's life sciences and biotechnology cluster, the nation's third-largest, according to county economic development officials.

"A lot of companies have chosen to be here and it comes down to the fact that the executive leadership wants to be here," Bosser told Medical Product Outsourcing. "And once companies come here, we find that they don't want to leave. A lot of company executives have made the decision personally as CEOs to be here in North Carolina because of the quality of life, the strength of our clusters and the potential to hire good talent. And talent is huge for us--it's the one thing companies always talk to us about. In fact, we're launching a new talent attraction initiative aimed at recruiting highly-skilled talent to Research Triangle Park. We want to focus our message on telling folks across the world about the clusters we have and the jobs we have to fill so people with the appropriate skills can come here and take advantage of the opportunities we have to offer."


A growing chorus of economic development executives have been telling the world about the life sciences/medtech clusters in their respective states and the potential for both professional development and personal fulfillment as they attempt to lure healthcare companies away from the traditional strongholds of Minneapolis, Minn.; Boston, Mass.; and San Francisco, Calif. While most all state officials like to share a similar tale--bragging about their educated workforce, top rankings for lifestyle/quality of life, and tax incentives for business relocation--many regional recruiters are now beginning to publicize the qualities that truly set them apart from their competitors.

Wake County, for instance, uses Research Triangle Park (RTP) and a trio of research universities as bait when fishing for new life sciences and medtech prospects. Born in 1959 of a desire to attract research-oriented companies, RTP was formed by the geographic nexus of the Raleigh region's three renowned research universities (hence its moniker): Duke University, North Carolina State University (NC State), and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). The Research Triangle region is anchored by the cities of Raleigh, Cary, Durham and Chapel Hill--one of the country's fastest-growing metropolitan areas with a population of 1.6 million and nearly 3 million in the area within a 60-mile radius of the park.

More than 170 companies are located in the 7,000-acre park, though nearly half (80) are biotechnology and life sciences firms. A handful of medical device companies work out of the park as well, though more than 200 can be found in the greater Research Triangle region, including Cardinal Health, Ethicon Inc., GE Healthcare, NDI Medical Inc., Teleflex Medical and Smith & Nephew plc.

Economic development executives peddle the park as a "center of innovation," claiming it has helped foster the development of several notable inventions, such as the Universal Product Code and 3-D ultrasound technology. Much of the park's success, however, can be attributed to the strength of the programs at Duke, NC State, and UNC that serve as a constant incubator for scientific discovery. NC State provides medical device companies with various networking and educational resources that link medtech components, experts and facilities. The resources include, but are not limited to, the Center for Chemical Toxicology Research and Pharmacokinetics, which is assessing the nature of interactions between skin and manufactured nanoparticles; the Center for Robotics and Intelligent Machines, where experts are working to integrate mechanical systems, information technologies and biotechnology innovations; and the NC State Nanofabrication Facility, a self-described "melting pot" of leading researchers from academia, government laboratories and research and development operations.

Annual research spending at NC State tops $325 million, according to Wake County Economic Development. Many innovation-inducing partnerships occur on the Centennial Campus, a 1,120-acre complex of academic buildings, laboratories and corporate offices; the nearby Centennial Biomedical Campus, meanwhile, is adding 1.6 million square feet to its layout to enhance its laboratory and animal care facilities. Last year, NC State launched a joint M.B.A./master's degree in biomanufacturing to better prepare students for post-graduate work in the biotechnology/biomanufacturing sector. The degree program is offered jointly through the Jenkins M.B.A. program (part of the Poole College of Management), and the Golden Leaf Biomanufacturing and Training Center.

NC State also operates a Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering with UNC that unites the expertise and resources of UNC's School of Medicine with those of NC State's College of Engineering. Located in both Raleigh and Chapel Hill, the department offers master's of science and Ph.D. degrees in biomedical engineering, in addition to a graduate certificate in medical devices and several undergraduate concentrations.

"There are opportunities for companies to really tap into knowledge in many different industry clusters," Bosser noted. "We have such a diversity of industries here and there is such a mix of different things going on that companies can easily find partners in the particular space they are interested in. We have three Tier One research universities within 30 minutes of each other--that doesn't exist anywhere else in the United States. That is one of the greatest strengths of this area--companies can tap into resources that don't exist in concentration in other places."

Traversing Georgia's Crossroads of Global Health

David B. Hartnett probably would disagree with Bosser. Clearly, he cannot deny the existence of a formidable academic triad in North Carolina and, respectively, cannot provide a comparable example in Georgia, where he works as vice president of Bioscience-Health IT Industry Development for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. But he believes the Peach State has something far more superior to offer potential new business customers: a collection of prominent national and international healthcare organizations, led by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), near Emory University.

Members of this global health club include the American Cancer Society, the Arthritis Foundation, the Carter Center, CARE, the Rollins School for Public Health at Emory, the Morehouse School of Medicine, and the Task Force for Global Health, an organization that acts much like a free-trade zone where government agencies, pharmaceutical firms, non-governmental entities and civic groups such as Rotary International can collaborate on various international initiatives to eradicate some of the world's most debilitating diseases.

Founded in 1984 by epidemiologist and former CDC director William Foege, M.D., (considered a "godfather" in global health, having devised the worldwide strategy that helped eradicate smallpox in the late 1970s), the Task Force was created to help foster a common goal of childhood immunization. Over the last 28 years, the organization has grown substantially but the rate of growth seems to have accelerated dramatically in the latter half of the 2000s, according to agency data. In its 2007 fiscal year, the Task Force received and distributed $45 million in donated drugs and medical supplies throughout the world; just three years later, that figure reached $1.1 billion. Contributions are expected to go even higher in FY2011, totaling $1.8 billion.

Such growth has prompted the Task Force to expand its headquarters in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur. "This building expansion will support our work and accomplishments to improve public health, and help us bring work with other Atlanta-based organizations, including CDC, Emory, the Carter Center and CARE, along with our worldwide partners, "Task Force President and CEO Mark L. Rosenberg, M.D., M.P.P., said in announcing the group's expansion. "The Task Force has a long history of building partnerships and collaborations that have helped to make Atlanta a crossroads for global health."

The glut of global health groups, however, is just one facet of the Atlanta region's appeal as a universal gateway. The area has an impressive educational structure consisting of eight technical colleges and the holy trinity of Georgia State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia (the trio, though, still is not as renowned as the Triangle triad in nearby North Carolina). Atlanta also has a complex transportation infrastructure that arguably is one of the world's busiest travel/distribution hubs: More than 80 percent of U.S. consumers are a two-hour plane ride or two-day (truck) drive from the metropolitan area, according to the Metro Atlanta Chamber. The Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is considered the world's busiest, with nearly 90 million passengers passing through its gates in 2010; international non-stop service is available to more than 80 international cities in 50 countries, including the emerging medtech markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China (the "BRIC" nations). Add to the mix the new Atlanta-based Global Center for Medical Innovation--a comprehensive medical device innovation center--and the region's designation as a "center for global health" begins to make sense.

"The South is the fastest-growing area of the United States, and companies are coming here to get close to some of the larger southeastern medical systems," Hartnett said. "When we talk to medical device companies that are looking to expand or relocate in Georgia, they tell us they are coming here due in great part to the quality of life, the low cost of doing business and fact that Atlanta is a natural distribution hub anchored by the world's busiest airport. One of their biggest initiatives beyond serving domestic customers is emerging markets. The ability to fly directly to the BRIC markets makes business so much easier. People keep calling Atlanta the 'Center for Global Health.' If you start to think about all the agencies that are headquartered here--unlike other areas--we have the CDC, the only federal agency outside of Washington, D.C. And it's based here for strategic reasons, particularly for infectious diseases and public safety awareness--the ability to reach out to all areas of the globe when there is a problem. It takes them 28 minutes to get to Hartsfield, they get on a plane and they can be anywhere in the world. We have headquartered here the American Cancer Society, Arthritis Foundation, CARE, The Carter Center and the Task Force for Global Health which all have global implications, conducting research all around the planet. These are global, world-renowned operations that are headquartered here and continue to grow."

Foege perhaps provided the best perspective of Atlanta's role in the global health network. During a groundbreaking ceremony last spring for the headquarters expansion of his Task Force for Global Health, Foege tied the success of the organization to the region's transformation into "a global health center for the entire world." He also called the Task Force the "mortar" that holds together the bricks of world health.

The Northwest Portal to Planetary Health

That mortar may not be exclusive to Atlanta, though. Part of it can be found in the Seattle area, which, like its southern rival, lays claim to the global health center title (Puget Sound economic development executives have a different name for it though, calling the region a "nexus" for world health).

While Hartnett might insist that Atlanta is better suited to serving the world's health needs, there is no denying the parallels that exist between both cities. For starters, both metropolises credit Foege with helping them achieve their status as global health leaders; during his career, Foege led the CDC, was executive director at the Carter Center, and served as professor emeritus at the Rollins School of Public Health. He currently is a senior fellow at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and both generations of Gates have referred to Foege as their "teacher" in global health issues. In addition, Foege has lived in both places, though published reports claim he moved back permanently to Atlanta earlier this year.

The cities shared another double-dipper--Helene Gayle, M.D., M.P.H., a Buffalo, N.Y., transplant who spent 20 years at the CDC working primarily with HIV/AIDS and used her knowledge of the disease to direct HIV/AIDS programs for the Gates Foundation. She also returned to Atlanta, where she current serves as president and CEO of CARE USA, which has programs in nearly 70 countries to end poverty and improve the health and well-being of the world's population.

Besides sharing a mentor and global health professional, both cities have established organizations to strengthen their positions as world health leaders. The Evergreen State's equivalent to Atlanta's Task Force is the Washington Global Health Alliance (WGHA), an entity formed in 2007 with initial funding from the Gates Foundation. The organization is charged with supporting and advocating for Washington's "global health community as a nexus for research, education, training, commercialization, and delivery on the world stage."

The WGHA helps facilitate collaboration between global health organizations and the public and private sector. It has established several initiatives to help promote the region's strength as a world health capital, the most significant of which may be the formation of Global Health Nexus Seattle, an organization that works to solve global health problems, foster local economic development and inspire citizen participation. Put simply, Nexus is designed to elevate the state's status as a global health center and connect the business, non-profit and research communities to improve world health.

Nexus intends to catapult the state's profile in global health this summer during a 50th anniversary observance of the Seattle World's Fair. The organization is planning to promote the region's dominance in world health through exhibits, a student competition (challenging pupils to develop an idea, product or process that addresses current global health challenges) and a two-day life sciences innovation conference on July 11-12.

"Seattle's life science community is one of the most innovative, collaborative and diverse in the world," noted Chris E. Rivera, president of the Seattle-based Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association. "For example, ultrasound imaging was invented at the University of Washington in the 1960s and today, we have more than 25 ultrasound companies in the [Seattle] area. The defibrillator was invented here in the 1950s, and our biotech community is, and has developed some of the most revolutionary medical breakthroughs known to mankind. In addition, outside of Geneva, [Switzerland], Seattle has the world's highest concentration of global health organizations in the world. Our global health community has been working for more than 30 years to deliver goods and services to places like China, Ethiopia, Nigeria, India, etc., and there is an increasing public-private partnership developing between the private and public sectors working on improving health care."

The partnership has spawned some pretty impressive statistics: Global health employment in King County (where Seattle is based) has grown more than 46 percent between 2006 and 2001; an estimated 2,979 state residents work full-time for global health employers; and nearly 60 organizations conduct global health work in 156 countries, with Kenya, India, Tanzania, China, Uganda, Haiti and Ethiopia among the most popular destinations. In addition, the state's global health groups collaborate with 1,574 partners in 111 countries worldwide, according to a 2011 WGHA report, titled "Global Health Strategic Mapping Portfolio." The portfolio documents Washington's expertise in infectious and chronic disease as well as technology and device development.

One of the key findings discussed in the report is the collaborative nature of the state's global health sector, a distinctive trait that Rivera claims sets the Northwest apart from other areas of the country (particularly Boston and San Francisco)."The Seattle life sciences community may be the most collaborative of anywhere in the world," he said. "Cooperation and collaboration is a longstanding Northwest tradition ... there's a feeling here that this is a community and our life sciences leaders are willing to help each other out."

'Magical' Collaboration in Utah

Such a tradition also exists in Utah, where a collaborative effort between state economic development executives, research universities, medical device accelerator programs and a new life sciences incubator has helped create a burgeoning medtech industry comprised of more than 600 life sciences firms and roughly 25,000 workers. In 2008, Utah topped the nation in life sciences businesses per capita and was second for overall industry growth, according to Milken Institute rankings.

Part of that growth can be attributed to the state's generous tax incentive packages for business relocation and/or expansion as well as programs such as MD4 and the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative (USTAR). Launched in 2006, USTAR is designed to create and commercialize innovative technologies through research investments with both the University of Utah and Utah State University (USU). USTAR Executive Director Ted McAleer likes to think of the strategy as "innovation-based economic development."

Since its creation, USTAR has recruited more than 40 top researchers to the state, luring them away from such world-class institutions as Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Case Western Reserve. Among the recruits is John White, Ph.D., a former Boston University biomedical engineering faculty member who currently is working to develop implants and high-speed electrical systems that could predict and prevent seizures. Similarly, Deborah Yurgelun-Todd left Harvard to join the University of Utah's Brain Institute so she and her husband can commercialize the research that would help reduce traumatic brain injuries and suicide rates among veterans and the general population. The couple's research has attracted more than $10 million in funding to the state.

Over the last six years, researchers have been awarded $137.4 million in direct USTAR grants and USTAR-assisted grants, bringing an infusion of research funding into Utah and spurring the filing of more than 120 invention disclosures and 46 provisional patents, according to program data.

Key to the success of the recruitment effort, USTAR executives claim, has been the construction of two state-of-the-art research facilities--the BioInnovations Center at USU (operating for about a year now) and the brand-new Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building at the University of Utah. These facilities have helped create an interdisciplinary environment where researchers can focus on their own areas of interest and learn from the work of others. The molecular biotechnology building in particular is expected to foster collaboration among researchers as it positions itself in the epicenter of the colleges of science, engineering and medicine.

In such a collaborative environment, McAleer recently told Utah Business magazine, "magical things have a tendency to happen."

The magic already has begun--in a BiG way. Bewitching partnerships are continuously being formed at BioInnovations Gateway (BIG) and resulting in some truly enchanting innovation. Touted as a one-of-a-kind program that integrates high school education and training with life sciences startup incubation, BiG provides 25,000 square feet of wet and dry laboratories and office space for up to seven emerging companies interested in developing new products. BiG is partnered and co-located with the Biomanufacturing program of the Granite Technical Institute; the Biomanufacturing program provides specific and industry-focused training for entry-level positions in the pharmaceutical, diagnostics, medical device and natural products industries.

Some of the magic already conjured up at BiG includes the development of flexible, non-toxic radiopaque material that can be used to replace the 70-pound gowns that surgeons usually wear to protect themselves against radiation. The technology has received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval and should be commercially available by the end of the year, BiG Director Suzanne Winters, Ph.D., said.

"BIG provides the opportunity to take ideas from clinicians and turn them into a working prototype. Last year, we contracted with Intermountain Healthcare, which had a nurse who had an idea--and that's all it was, an idea--for an improvement to a fetal monitor belt. The problem with the belt included loss of data, quality of the data and non-continuous data from the monitor due to the problems with the belt. She had an idea about the design and students got together with a faculty member and redesigned the belt by adding a wedge to it. Previously, nurses would stuff rolled up washcloths in the belt trying to get it to work right. The students learned computer assisted design, they learned how to build a prototype all on a 3-D printer, building a mold and pouring a polyurethane. We delivered back a belt/wedge system that IHC has subsequently patented. They're currently in the process of looking for a licensee for the technology. It's pretty cool."

So cool, in fact, that similar USTAR initiatives have sprung up in other parts of the country. Last year, Nevada lawmakers considered legislation that would mimic USTAR's partnership model, while last month, Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signed into law an economic development initiative designed to boost university research in the Gem State. Deemed IGEM (short for Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission), the program--like USTAR--aims to convert university research into new business opportunities to help launch and grow new Idaho-based companies.

"Initiatives like USTAR are important because we bring world-class researchers into our universities and those researchers are inventing and coming up with new ideas and those ideas work their way into the tech transfer office and then into new businesses that are coming out of university," noted Richard J. Linder, president and CEO of Coherex Medical, a privately held company in Salt Lake City that specializes in the minimally invasive treatment of structural heart disease. "It's very exciting because if you are a serial entrepreneur it very may well be that Salt Lake City is the place to be because you have idea after idea after idea coming out of the university, not to mention all the ideas coming out of entrepreneurs and companies that are being purchased. Once they have an exit, the folks that were here tend to stay here. They don't like to go back to California or back to Minneapolis or back East. It's interesting, these entrepreneurs come to Utah and they are curious as to whether they will stay long term and they quickly find that they want to make a home here."

Historically, emerging medical device and life sciences firms (as well as those undergoing expansions) had few suitors for their business. Most wound up in one of three general metropolitan areas--Boston, Minneapolis or San Francisco. These medtech monopolies, however, have gradually lost ground to emerging North American markets as companies attempt to realign their strategies with new forces driving revenue generation and margin preservation. As a result, places such as Atlanta, Ga.; Seattle, Wash.; Charleston, S.C.; Austin, Texas; Raleigh, N.C.; and Salt Lake City, Utah, quickly are becoming melting pots of medtech innovation. As one economic development executive observed: "It was always an easy bet that the traditional markets would get what they want, but the problem with those markets--the San Francisco Bay, life science alley in Minneapolis, Cambridge/Route 128--is they don't offer as much as some states are offering now. They've become so well-established that they frankly don't need to offer much. The reasons companies went to those traditional markets was because it was comfortable, there were no surprises and there was plenty of venture capital. But those reasons no longer apply, and that has left other markets scrapping for business. The non-traditional markets are doing quite well. They're taking full advantage of the situation."

Michael Barbella * Managing Editor
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Author:Barbella, Michael
Publication:Medical Product Outsourcing
Geographic Code:1U8UT
Date:Apr 1, 2012
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