West Michigan: A Top-Tier Medical Device Hub?

West Michigan medical device hub, technologyIn addition to Blendon Group LLC consulting, another “hat” I wear is Director of the West Michigan Medical Device Consortium.  With these roles I have a good vantage point to observe the current medical device industry and engage with capable companies who are taking us into the future.  And from what I see there is reason to be optimistic!

Yet, candidly, there are some hurdles to expanding our West Michigan medical device industry. Hurdle Number One: There sadly remains a perception – mainly from outside Michigan – that we are little more than a collection of “rustbelt”, low-tech automotive companies. This is neither fair nor accurate – the automotive companies I’ve worked with are extraordinarily technical. And we certainly have capabilities in industries besides automotive. However, as you know, perception can be reality. In fact, in a recent conversation when I introduced myself as being from Michigan the other person actually offered their condolences. Happily there are many organizations regionally and statewide working hard every day to modify this perception. Hurdle Number Two: We are not yet known nationally as a top-tier medical device hub like the “majors” such as Minneapolis, San Diego, Boston, and others. But our trajectory is aimed in this direction and as goals go this is a great one! (a “BHAG” for those of you who are Jim Collins fans) These two hurdles are unique challenges with unique solutions – but not insurmountable.

Michigan in general, and West Michigan in particular, is well stocked with a talented, technical, and capable business community.  The firms that I’ve talked to are clearly up for the task in the medical device space, and many have already been at it for some time. One recent example, Keystone Solutions Group based in Kalamazoo, MI is managing growth of 40% this year over last year. And last year was their best year on record! They have added 14 new customers, 11 new employees and are planning to double their facility space in 2012. Our heritage in West Michigan is designing, building and delivering high-quality, durable products that are produced to tight tolerances. These skills are readily transferable – and needed – in medical devices.

We are well on our way with investment of over $1 Billion in healthcare-related infrastructure in downtown Grand Rapids alone: VanAndel Research Institute, large provider networks like Spectrum Health and St. Mary’s Health Care, and the new Michigan State University Medical School. Surrounding this infrastructure we have a meaningful medical device industry in West Michigan (approximately 40 companies).  I am eager to see us continue to accelerate this industry’s growth to reach the day we are recognized as one of the top-tier medical device regions in the U.S.

So, how do we do this? It will certainly take time, effort, and significant funding. But this region has rallied public-private partnerships with great success in the past – and I wouldn’t bet against this area in doing it again. One approach is to assemble an organization similar to “Grand Action” (the group formed years ago to revitalize downtown Grand Rapids) to focus its energies on increasing our medical device industry velocity. Let’s roll!

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