Tough economic times are the heart of a rather unusual and unlikely alliance in the state of Michigan. The Wolverine state's Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG; Southfield, Michigan) along with Michigan Biosciences Industry Association (MichBio; Ann Arbor, Michigan), have come together to form a collaborative partnership.

"You wouldn't think we would be a good fit together, but we actually are and have some synergies," Stephen Rapundalo president/CEO of MichBio told Medical Device Daily. "There is an acute need and both agencies have the ability to fulfill that need for one another."

In recent months considerable effort has been made by the state of Michigan to assist manufacturers, who are looking to shore up business lost from the automotive industry and diversify into the exploding medical devices market.

"We are committed to providing our member organizations with the tools and resources they need to manage the economic recovery. Given the current financial condition of the automotive industry, it is imperative that we collaborate with organizations like MichBio to help our members diversify as well as take best practices for quality improvement and apply them in other industries," said J. Scot Sharland, Executive Director, AIAG.

While the automotive market has been on a decline, the medical device industry is seeing growth due to an aging demographic, increased awareness and expectations for medical care from patients, and advances in medical technologies.

Med-tech companies have reported easily acquiring funding in Michigan.

Just last month, Accuri Cytometers (Ann Arbor, Michigan), which makes low-cost bench-top cell analysis products, raised $4 million to expand its manufacturing and customer service capabilities. The company said it needed the money to keep up with demand (Medical Device Daily, July 14, 2009).

Also according to a study commissioned by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, biosciences remains a "big business" in Michigan, accounting for nearly 100,000 jobs and generating $9.34 billion in economic impact.

"This report demonstrated to us what we already knew," Rapundalo told MDD. "But this helped our legislature see a ray of positivity in a sea of negativity."

The study also allowed there to be more of a statewide focus to further develop the biosciences industry.

The automotive industry has long been asking the question of who to talk to, to manufacture some of the technologies med-tech companies have developed.

And while both organizations say that synergies exist there is no question that some retooling will most likely be required.

However, medical device manufacturing is a complimentary vertical for suppliers that have mastered strict quality certification systems in the automotive industry which can be readily transition into other manufacturing industries.

"We've heard many examples from our own side of the world that device makers had to go overseas to find someone to build their technology, when there were companies that were right down the street," Rapundalo said. "This partnership helps bridge that gap and it gets the word out about what both sides can do for one another.

Members of both organizations will benefit from shared tools and resources bringing together the best of both manufacturing industries. Through this cooperative relationship AIAG and MichBio have agreed to pursue areas of collaboration where appropriate, share information on initiatives and projects where there is common interest, exchange membership information as well as member discounts for publications, training and events, and work collaboratively on the manufacturing track at MichBio's Expo and Conference.

So far Michigan has proven to be the proverbial Phoenix that rises from the ashes, when it comes to its Biolifesciences sector. Doom and gloom was predicted for the Wolverine state when pharmaceutical giant Pfizer (New York) shut down all of its facilities in the state, part of a system-wide layoff of its workforce, and leaving a variety of high-tech facilities vacant.

But initiatives such as this partnership along with Michigan Life Sciences Network (Lansing), launch of the Michigan Virtual Medical Device Company and the Michigan Virtual BioPharma Company in 2007, helped turn a bleak future for med-tech industry around.

The virtual companies offer the opportunity to create regional directories and communication between the life science companies in the state. Then the members of the virtual companies can receive marketing aid as help in navigating the FDA approval process, or any other questions that might come up.

Omar Ford, 404-262-5546,