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Region's Med-Tech Companies Growing

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, February 21, 2013

Workers dressed in white coats are busy inside the factory at PRIDE Industries in Roseville. Some are operating machines while others sit at long desks soldering circuit boards. Matt Fritsch is with the company.

"This is the kitchen so to speak. This is where the electronic medical devices are born."

One of the machines here has a twitching robotic arm. It moves frenetically over small green cards, sporadically tapping them so fast you'd miss it if you blinked.

"That noise you're hearing is it placing thousands of tiny little components onto the printed circuit board."

Fritsch explains that this machine is creating the brains for an electronic medical device injured athletes will use for cold compression therapy.

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"You could have sleeves for your knees or your elbows or whatever and what it does is it speeds up recovery and increases the rate that athletes can get back out on the field."

PRIDE makes a range of non-medical products too - including circuit boards that power the Sacramento Rivercat's large-screen "Jumbotron."

But a few years ago, this non-profit company, that makes a point of hiring people with disabilities, decided to expand into the medical device field.

"It was a way for us to differentiate ourselves as a company to serve the region and most important to create new opportunities for people with disabilities. Our medical business unit, that's grown 66% in the past two-years, so that took us from $1.8 - $3.1 million which is nearly doubled in the last two years."

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PRIDE is among nearly 120 med-tech and bioscience companies in the nine county Sacramento area - companies that employ about 5,000 people.

Cary Adams: "There's a lot more here in our region than people tend to be aware of."

Cary Adams heads MedStart - a group working to bring more medical technology companies to the Sacramento area.  Adams says in the past five years, including during the recession, the local med-tech sector has grown by more than 40 companies.

"In terms of company creation it is a vital group and growing. Why it has survived the meltdown depends on how you measure an industry."

Adams explains - if you measure the med-tech/bioscience industry by including the "healthcare" sector, then the main reason for surviving the economic "meltdown" was because of our rapidly aging population: older people need more healthcare.

Adams says there's almost unlimited potential to make our healthcare system safer, more effective and less costly through science and technology. That's why bioscience companies like The Jackson Laboratory in North Sacramento are expanding.

Kathy Vandegrift: "This area will be finished by the end of next December."

Kathy Vandegrift is with The Jackson Laboratory. It's a company that breeds mice and uses the animals to try and discover the genetic basis for preventing and curing diseases. The lab has contracts with researchers and drug companies. The Jackson Lab has launched a $27 million expansion of its Raley Boulevard facility.


"We're expanding our vivarium spaces to fit out the rest of our first floor. It's a space where you maintain a very clean, healthy environment for the mice to live to be used for research."

The lab is expected to grow from about 130 employees to more than 200.

Statewide, the biomedical industry employs about 270,000 people. The largest cluster of those jobs, 19%, is in the Bay Area. Los Angeles County has 16%. Sacramento County has only about 1%. Meg Arnold is trying to change that. She heads the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance or SARTA.

"We have the potential to be known as many other things in addition to being known as the state capitol - one of which could be a real med-tech strength."

Arnold says that potential is driven by the fact that there are four strong healthcare systems in the Sacramento area: UC Davis, Kaiser, Sutter and Dignity Health. Another factor is that the cost of living in Sacramento is more affordable than other regions which could help attract new companies.

It's unlikely Sacramento will replace the Silicon Valley as the leading bioscience job creator. But Arnold says diversifying from government employment can help the capitol city weather any future economic meltdowns.

"…diversification of the jobs base and diversification in almost any endeavor economically adds greater resilience to downturns."

Within the med-tech/bioscience sector MedStart says telehealth, regenerative medicine and molecular imaging have the potential to realize the most dramatic growth in the Sacramento region.

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