Five years ago the med-tech sector in Tampa Bay, Florida, was virtually invisible. Medical technology companies in the area were scattered about and there wasn’t a single entity that tracked the impact of the sector for the region, or its progress.

Fast forward to 2007.

Today, according to a new study, “The Medical Products Industry Cluster in Tampa Bay and Florida,” commissioned by the Florida Medical Manufacturers’ Consortium (St. Petersburg), the medical products industry in the Tampa Bay region has aneconomic output of $3.4 billion in the state of Florida and employs more than 12,000 workers.

The industry sector tracked by the report includes three segments: the pharmaceutical segment, the biotech segment and the medical device segment. The medical devices segment in Tampa Bay makes up 33% of Florida’s total medical devices employment.

“The study is a snapshot in a point of time for Tampa Bay,” Geary Havran, president of NDH Medical (St. Petersburg) and chairman of the consortium, told Medical Device Daily. “It’s a good study that shows the medical products industry is a strong and viable industry. We always knew we had a sector, and this study validates that belief.”

The study shows that since 2004 the total employment in the Tampa Bay region has increased nearly 24%, and total economic output has increased nearly 65%, with medical devices growing at a hefty, perhaps even astounding, 97%. Jobs in the medical products industry also pay more than 50% above the average state wage, the report data shows. Total income for these med tech businesses is $889 million.

Tampa Bay employment alone makes up 26% of Florida’s total medical products industry employment, according to the report.

Throughout the U.S., medical technology companies are getting the kind of prominence among investors not seen since the mid-‘90s. A report recently released by the Dow Jones News Service says venture firms have invested $1 billion in U.S. medical device companies in the second quarter of 2007, about 58% higher than 2Q06 (Medical Device Daily , July 27, 2007). And Tampa Bay appears to be a part of that trend.

“The med-tech industry is an industry that is enjoying relatively good growth in Tampa Bay,” Havran told MDD. “There are a number of factors behind this. One is, if you subscribe to the economic theory that if you have companies in a cluster they tend to do better.”

Another factor which seems to be prevalent in areas with burgeoning med-tech clusters is that traditional industry is migrating overseas and so creating a vacuum of sorts.

“We’re losing traditional old manufacturing companies,” Chris Steinocher, senior VP/COO for Marketing and Business Development for the Tampa Bay partnership, told MDD. “The medical industry is filling in the gap. These companies are solid and clean — and [these technologies] have the attention of the state and are being welcomed with open arms. ”

Florida isn’t the only area — outside the major West Coast, Midwest and East Coast biotech/med-tech hotbeds — which has experienced medical industry growth.

In a July interview with MDD, Baiju Shah, president of BioEnterprise (Cleveland), said the contributing factors behind medical company growth and investments in the Midwest are benefiting from the disappearance of traditional industry in the healthcare sector.

According to a report released by BioEnterprise, start-up companies in the healthcare industry in the Midwest drew in roughly $726 million in the first half of 2007, and analysts speculating the investments could reach the $1 billion mark by this year’s end.

Tampa Bay has a variety of advantages — in addition to its sun-and-surf atmosphere — that have enticed companies, and investors, for migration of their assets.

A partnership with University of South Florida, (USF, Tampa Bay) offers a graduate certificate in Medical Device Regulation that is producing “home grown” employees for med-tech firms, Steinocher said.

“The companies are utilizing this partnership,” he said. “We’re seeing the companies really take advantage of the research and the resources the university is doling out.”

It also doesn’t hurt the sunshine state to be ranked 2nd in the nation for FDA-registered medical device manufacturers. Smaller med-tech companies are joining the cluster hoping to absorb some of this regulatory success.

“The vast majority of companies we’re seeing in [Tampa Bay] are small companies,” Havran said. “It’s to our favor, so we aren’t held hostage by one larger company — if that company decided to leave, the economic impact could be tremendous.”

But what does the future hold for Tampa Bay. Will the sector dwindle or flourish?

While Tampa Bay comes nowhere close to rivaling that of the Bay area, which had a reported $4 billion invested in med-tech companies in 1Q07 (MDD, July 27, 2007), continued growth in the Florida sector is expected.

“I think we’re going to continuously grow,” Steinocher said, while adding an important proviso: “I think we’re always trying to grow but the hard part is maintaining that growth.”

The Florida Medical Manufacturers’ Consortium bills itself as a group formed to support the interests of the medical manufacturers in Florida by providing opportunities for industry members to assist each other.

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