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Medical devices: Federal Way's economic cure?
A recently-hatched medical device incubator could revolutionize Federal Way’s economy and overall standard of living.
From hospital air filters to plastic back braces, Cascadia MedTech Association helps medical device businesses profit right away.
“We just leap right into the company as if we work there,” said CEO Garry Welch, noting that Cascadia is ready to be a top partner and "provide a lot of horsepower.”
Success for Cascadia could result in a ripple effect as businesses bring their operations and talent to Federal Way. The company seeks a small venture fund worth millions of dollars to reach the next level. In 10 years, Welch wants to see 100 new technology companies in Federal Way. And right now, Cascadia is exploring ideas for a green technology cluster alongside the medical device businesses.
“We want to move as much manufacturing here as makes sense,” Welch said. “We will change, in a small way, how it feels to live and visit in Federal Way.”
Money and muscle in the marketplace
Modeled after two groups in Southern California and launched in Sept. 2010, Cascadia serves four clients with more on the way. Cascadia’s attorneys and resources help with patents, development and more.
Doug Woods, founder of Mobile Air Applied Science Inc. (MA2SI), credits Cascadia’s “intellectual resources” for helping with basic decisions about growing the business.
Based in Bellevue, MA2SI’s main products are manufactured in Auburn and found primarily in the Northwest. The devices clean the air in hospitals and surgical settings. These products can create an area up to 700 times cleaner than a standard hospital operating room, where particles like gauze dust can taint the air.
Woods said the devices can reduce air contaminants from 1 million particles per cubic foot down to 1,200. Other products by MA2SI include lightweight portable units for first responders to create clean “isolation” facilities anywhere.
“There has been a real shift to find ways to stem the growth in hospital acquired infections,” Woods said, “and handwashing just isn’t doing the trick.”
The medical world is a difficult marketplace for investors, Woods said. MA2SI is in the process of raising investment capital, and the association with Cascadia MedTech adds depth and credibility.
“It gives me a sounding board from someone who has our best interest at heart and not a diverging agenda,” Woods said. “It gives us big company experience and focus so we don’t make those wrong decisions.”
Another device under Cascadia’s umbrella is the VacuPractor, a plastic brace that treats lower back pain. Cascadia works with one company that makes disposable rubber caps for stethoscopes, and negotiations are under way with another company that specializes in selling human tissue for research.
Cascadia has vetted at least 40 companies from all over the region during the past year, said CEO Garry Welch. The company focuses on simpler class 1 medical devices that are external and non-intrusive. For a comparison, a pacemaker is a class 3 device because of its complexity and FDA regulations.
The medical device industry yields quick returns for small investments. It also brings together multiple fields such as mechanical and electrical engineering, software development, manufacturing and health care.
The overall goal is to tap local resources to assist in creating a self-sufficient medical device cluster. Cascadia and Federal Way-based Orion Industries are exploring opportunities for working together. Orion specializes in aerospace products, including aircraft parts for Boeing. The non-profit company’s mission is to find permanent jobs for local people with disabilities or personal troubles.
Both sides of this budding relationship see the potential for job growth.
“We’re prepared to put an investment forward to make this happen,” said Sean Dwyer, business development manager at Orion. “There is huge potential here.”
Cash in on clusters
The genesis of the idea dates back to 2008. Federal Way City Councilman Jack Dovey brainstormed with enterpriseSeattle about bringing businesses to Puget Sound. The city and consultants secured seed money for a 2009 study that later hatched Cascadia MedTech in Federal Way.
Medical technology is a burgeoning cluster field that yields big growths, Dovey said. A cluster refers to a geographic concentration of related businesses. Examples of clusters are found in Redmond, where Microsoft dominates the software cluster, and in Bothell, which is home to a biotech cluster.
Federal Way sports a small cluster with associations like the Washington Truckers Association and Washington Education Association. At one time, Weyerhaeuser launched several spinoff businesses that together staked a claim as Federal Way’s “sweet spot,” Dovey said.
“I pictured an organization that attracted business to Federal Way that wasn’t your traditional brick and mortar business,” Dovey said of Cascadia. “We’ve got to organically grow something.”
Bruce Jackson, business development manager at enterpriseSeattle, said the medical technology cluster is a key component to local economic development.
“We’re looking for opportunities that have the potential for scaling so they could become big employers,” Jackson said.
Jackson, who grew up near Steel Lake in Federal Way, said the city’s economy relies more on service industry jobs today. The more companies that Cascadia MedTech can recruit, the more likely that manufacturing jobs and skilled professionals will come to Federal Way.
“We’re trying to grow (Federal Way) deliberately in a new direction,” Jackson said. “An infusion of capital directed at this project could make it a big deal.”
Dovey sees potential for synergy between the medical device businesses, the downtown core and even the EB-5 program, which grants citizenship to foreigners who invest $500,000 or more into Federal Way.
“You’re going to have these companies centered in downtown taking that office space,” Dovey said. “We have the perfect storm.”
Cascadia MedTech Association operates a virtual office at 33530 1st Way S., Suite 102, Federal Way. To learn more, visit www.cascadiamedtech.com or contact CEO Garry Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or (253) 237-0777.