Bartlett, TN—On Thursday, July 17, representatives from 17 medical device manufacturers throughout Shelby County met in Bartlett to do something unprecedented within the medical device industry—form an incorporated not-for-profit association to address workforce needs and other issues that are critically important for the health of the industry.
“Today, we do not have a united voice for our industry,” commented Gene Baker, Vice President of Operations for Smith & Nephew, when he addressed the group. “If you look across the country in areas that have successful business sectors, they typically have a forum like this. We won’t become as successful as we could be without a forum like this.”
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Bartlett Mayor A. Keith McDonald opened the meeting by each addressing the group. “We need to focus on what we can do collectively to make us stronger,” said Mayor Luttrell. “We, as a county, need to embrace this technology and do what we can to promote it.”
Pledging their support, both mayors stated that the best they can do to help is to remove obstacles and to listen to the needs of the industry through the unified voice of the council.
“We’re fortunate to have about 10 medical device companies here in the [Bartlett] city limits, employing about 500 people, and we’re committed to try to provide you with an educated workforce,” said Mayor McDonald. “In starting this new school system, one of the things that the new school board, the new superintendent, and I are in harmony on is the STEM initiative—starting children when they’re young to understand that mathematics, engineering, technology, and science and the importance of that.”
Over the past decade, Shelby County has emerged as Tennessee’s medical device corridor and is the second largest cluster of medical device companies in North America – second only to Warsaw, Indiana. Currently, more than 40 life science companies operate in the area, the majority of which are in northeast Shelby County. These companies are one of the region’s largest employing industries, so a properly skilled workforce and a career pipeline dedicated to sustaining the skill sets required in the medical device industry are vital for the industry’s growth and the area’s economy.
“There were 18,000 unfilled jobs in Shelby County last year because we didn’t have a qualified workforce,” said Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. While the medical device industry only accounted for a portion of those jobs, it’s a trend that has continued over the past few years and has been of concern to the industry.
“The medical device industry is not only a significant employer in terms of number of jobs in Shelby County but also in the quality of jobs,” commented Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce President John Threadgill. “The industry coming together to talk is the first step in really making some progress for the greater good of the industry—and for the community.”
In the fall of 2011, the Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce, which has a strong focus on economic development in the area, conducted a study to determine the strengths and challenges facing the medical device industry. Many of the companies who attended the meeting on Thursday participated in the survey. Two primary concerns were identified as potential threats to the industry’s viability: 1) over-regulation and 2) lack of a standard training and recruitment program for skilled workers. A third item identified by the economic development community was a lack of cohesion within the industry which weakens it in the public policy arena.
Onyx Medical Corporation’s President, Jodie Gilmore, addressed the group on Thursday regarding the survey results. “Ultimately, we are unified in our need for an effective and sustainable pipeline for employees and employee development across the board from entry level to senior level positions.”
Gilmore continued, “We all have the same needs. Let’s come together, let’s share those needs and leverage the infrastructure that is already out there – the technical schools, the local colleges and universities, the continuing education programs—and literally, provide a roadmap for how they can help create successful employees in support of our industry and our community.”
Because of the study’s results, the Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce worked closely over the past two years with a medical device steering committee. From the committee, a task force was created comprised of three original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and four suppliers to identify their specific needs and how to best address the common impediments affecting their growth and prosperity. The result was a template for a standard curriculum and the task force’s recommendation to form an incorporated not-for-profit 501c(6) medical device council to ensure that the workforce needs were being addressed.
At Thursday’s meeting, 17 medical device companies made it official and agreed to form the Greater Memphis Medical Device Council and voted on a nine-member board of directors to oversee the council. Gene Baker with Smith & Nephew was elected chairman of the board; Jodie Gilmore with Onyx Medical Corporation as chairman-elect; and Stan McKee with Medtronic as secretary-treasurer.
The council’s main objective is to address the workforce issue along with helping direct government and education policy toward a more productive pipeline of skill sets to grow the industry and jobs.
“The vision of the medical device council is to strengthen job growth through the development of a world-class comprehensive workforce that serves the greater Memphis area biomedical industry,” said Chairman of the Board Gene Baker.
The council will also review legislation and government policies that may have an adverse impact on the industry’s growth and sustainability and is further responsible for initiating programs that benefit the overall industry through education, innovation, and technology and career-path curriculums.
“We are all excited about forming the Greater Memphis Medical Device Council to more successfully collaborate as an industry, identify shared employee development needs and guide an educational structure that will effectively close the respective skills gap for all levels of biomedical careers,” said Chairman-elect Jodie Gilmore. “We must thank the Bartlett Area Chamber, which has been such a strong catalyst in this effort and for which we are very grateful.”
The charter members of the Greater Memphis Medical Device Council are Ariste Medical, Inc.; Big River Engineering ; Bioventus, LLC; Enteroptyx, Inc.; Innovision, Inc.; MB Innovations, Inc.; Medtronic; MicroPort Orthopedics; Gyrus ACMI, Inc.; Onyx Medical Corporation; Restore Medical Solutions, LLC; Smith & Nephew; Surface Dynamics LLC; Titan Medical, LLC; Wright Medical Technology, Inc; Y&W Technologies; and Zimmer Spine.
Both Baker and Gilmore encouraged the group to set their sights high. “We can affect change, and it’s going to start today. Ultimately, coming together for the benefit of the whole industry—this is an important catalyst for the Memphis metropolitan area and beyond,” stated Gilmore.
Baker took it a step further commenting, “The medical device business is a clean, fast growing industry that helps people restore their lives. There is no reason Memphis cannot be the medical device capital of the world. The greater Memphis area has key advantages today such as a favorable tax structure and a relatively low cost of living. When we combine this strong base with a united medical device voice, a highly trained workforce, and favorable government policy, there will be no reason the greater Memphis area cannot become the world’s capital for medical devices—at a minimum, we should be the U.S. capital for our industry.”