KALAMAZOO — A major expansion by Stryker Corp. could provide a welcome shot in the arm for Southwest Michigan’s life sciences sector.
Last month, the Kalamazoo-based medical device manufacturer announced a $130 million project to build a new research and design center for its Stryker Instruments division in Portage.
While Stryker (NYSE: SYK) views the expansion as a way to create a hub for the company’s global customer base, other industry insiders see it as a needed step in further establishing Southwest Michigan as a primarily player in the national life sciences sector.
“For us, it’s clear that when you have a headquarters expansion like this, with that comes capacity that you just don’t get otherwise,” said Ron Kitchens, president and CEO of Southwest Michigan First, a Kalamazoo-based regional economic development firm. “It will be growth in senior executive jobs, research and development and then you combine that with the R&D we’re doing around design with Western (Michigan University’s) new design facility and we think it means a really strong future with the device and medical products side.”
Industry insiders believe the expansion, which will include a showroom, “customer experience center,” and office space, could help attract to the region new talent and medical device companies — particularly manufacturers.
“In Michigan in general, our industry is largely R&D focused,” said Stephen Rapundalo, president and CEO of MichBio, an Ann Arbor-based trade group focused on the life sciences industry. “We’re not rich in big-time manufacturers like you’d find in Minnesota, California and other places.”
Michigan often struggles to attract medical device and life sciences companies compared to other established industry hubs around the country that have more access to capital and executive talent. However, establishing a base of contract manufacturers could help the state overcome those challenges and lure companies to locate here, industry sources told MiBiz for a previous report.
“Usually when giants like that expand, certainly, they have a reliance on suppliers,” Rapundalo said. “I would hope that there will be an ancillary impact in that regard, which will only strengthen what we have in the Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids corridor.”
For its part, Stryker chose Southwest Michigan for its new R&D facility largely to avoid having to rebuild its talent pool from the ground up in another area, said Brent Lalomia, the company’s vice president of quality and facilities.
“Michigan is attractive because of all the universities we have here,” Lalomia said. “We have a hotbed of young graduates (and) we want to attract and retain within the medical profession.”
Stryker plans to create 105 new jobs with the expansion, increasing its current Michigan employee base to more than 1,000 workers, according to documents submitted to the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
However, finding the qualified talent necessary to fill its open positions could be challenging given the current tight labor market, in which companies in a range of industries are struggling to find and hire workers.
Despite talent constraints, Stryker remains optimistic its status as a global player in the medical device industry will lure qualified people to the region, especially in light of the new expansion.
“We’re a global leader in medical technology so we’re a destination for a lot of folks who want to be in that industry,” Lalomia said.
Moreover, Stryker wants to establish a “destination” for its global customer base in Portage, he said.
“Because we have a global customer base, in order to get doctors and nurses in for training, we had to host that (training) in other cities such as Chicago or Dallas where they can fly in because we were unable in our facility to accommodate that much growth,” he said. .