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WNY group receives award to boost medical-device trade

Patrick Whalen, CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, speaks during a press conference

Patrick Whalen, CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, speaks during a press conference announcing the grant award. Photo: NANCY J. PARISI

By CORY NEALON

Published June 19, 2014

World Trade Center of Buffalo Niagara (WTCBN) is receiving approximately $682,000 in funding, including $218,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce, to help local medical-device manufacturers sell their goods in China.

The award will fund a program that will be administered over three years by WTCBN with the support of partners who work closely with local medical-device companies, among them UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, MedTech, the Jacobs Institute and the Department of Commerce.

“This three-year project will serve as a template for a greater regional export strategy,” said Chris Johnston, president of WTCBN, a not-for-profit international business-development organization working with companies to facilitate regional growth through global trade.

“It provides a great opportunity for collaboration among various groups, including the federal, state and regional governments, with local organizations such as the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, UB and World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara, which will maximize the benefits for Western New York companies,” Johnston added.

Rep. Kathy Hochul called the program “a critical step toward opening new markets, fostering innovation and expanding manufacturing right here at home. Meaningful investment in Western New York’s medical-device industry and workforce will help add good-paying, sustainable jobs to our local economy,” she said. “It is vital that we continue to work to ensure our local businesses have the resources necessary to expand and reach new global markets.”

Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said the investment in WTCBN will help boost exports, which means more jobs for Western New York.

“While the U.S. continues to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, U.S. exports remain a bright spot for the American economy,” Blank said. “The awards given by the Commerce Department’s Market Development Cooperator Program will help us continue to make progress toward achieving President Obama’s goal of doubling exports by the end of 2014. Higher exports lead to more jobs: In 2011, jobs supported by exports increased by 1.2 million over 2009.”

Aside from the United States, China has the world’s largest market for medical equipment and services, according to a commerce department report issued earlier this year. That is due, in part, to China’s size, aging population and health care reforms enacted in 2008.

Chinese companies make medical devices, but they feature “low- to mid-range technology and generally lack the expertise and experience deemed appropriate by Western standards,” according to the commerce department report. There is room for U.S. companies, as well as competitors such as Japan and Germany, to increases sales in China, the report concludes.

Western New York is home to an experienced and vibrant cluster of about 250 medical-equipment manufacturers and medical research centers. Past innovations from the region include the implantable pacemaker, the Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test, photodynamic therapy (used to treat malignant cancers), and multiple sclerosis therapy.

While it is a dynamic business sector, an overwhelming majority of the companies export their goods to only one country: Canada, according to WTCBN.

The program, “Accelerating Upstate New York’s Competitiveness and Exports in the Global Economy,” will help change that. The partner institutions under the program plan to offer training and expertise to at least 40 local manufacturers, teaching them how to navigate Chinese import laws, how to effectively market their products in China and the logistics of shipping goods there. They also will provide access to export loans and credit insurance.

WTCBN thinks the region could see a boost of $25 million in economic activity derived from Chinese contracts during a four-year period. As a result, Western New York manufacturers could create and sustain hundreds of good-paying jobs.

Marnie LaVigne, UB associate vice president for economic development, said the grant-funded program will complement other efforts already under way at UB.

“Our mission at UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, and in this community, is to grow our life sciences sector as part of our region’s new economy,” she said. “While medical-device companies have been a part of our landscape for a long time, this grant provides a huge boost to our efforts to help both established and young firms expand their business in the rapidly growing global marketplace.”

Rep. Brian Higgins said local companies along the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and across Western New York are leading the way in medical innovation.

“One of the best ways for these businesses to grow is to find ways to import wealth from places as far as China or as close as Canada,” Higgins said. “This funding will help foster cooperative strategies to broaden the reach of area businesses, strengthening job creation and growing our local economy,” he said.

Patrick J. Whalen, chief operating officer of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Inc., said the Department of Commerce grant “will showcase the assets in Western New York to medical-device companies around the world, and we look forward to working together to help existing companies succeed and grow.”

“Congratulations to the World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara for receiving this important grant, which supports the BNMC’s goal of creating economic opportunities for our region,” he added.

Local companies interested in learning more about how the program can help them enter the Chinese marketplace are invited to the inaugural session of the 2012-13 Life Sciences Commercialization Lecture Series for a comprehensive overview. The session will take place from 4-5 p.m. Sept. 27 in UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, 701 Ellicott St., Buffalo. While registration is free, space is limited