While Memphis might be known as the logistics capital of the world, another sector has been providing thousands of jobs and billions in gross domestic product for the region: the medical device manufacturing industry.
A new study released by the Greater Memphis Medical Device Council Tuesday showed more than 18,000 jobs in the Memphis area are directly or indirectly supported by the industry and the total wages paid to those workers are about $1.5 billion annually. The projected yearly economic impact of the industry on the region is more than $4 billion, about 5.5% of the Memphis GDP.
Conducted by Jackson, Tennessee-based Younger Associates, the study also showed the average annual wage paid to direct employees of device manufacturers − which encompasses a variety of jobs and pay scales − is more than $103,000. The industry has added more than 1,900 jobs locally since 2015.
“This is a thriving industry for the city of Memphis, fast-growing, dynamic, revolutionary,” said Gary Stevenson, co-founder of MB Venture Partners, a venture capital firm that invests in life sciences companies. “Some of the greatest inventions in the space have come from our region.”
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He said Memphis’ medical device sector is “the envy of the world.”
Greater Memphis Medical Device Council members expounded on some of the key takeaways from the study − which included 45 companies − at the Musculoskeletal New Ventures Conference at the University of Memphis.
Jodie Gilmore, chairman of the council’s board and president of orthopedics for Elos Medtech, said the medical device manufacturing industry impacts people every day.
“Why does the medical device industry really matter? Put plainly, our companies exist to save and restore lives. Every day we design, develop, manufacture, and deliver essential medical devices around the globe,” she said. “And these devices help people live and help them live better.”
However, Gilmore stressed the impact of the industry extends beyond the confines of hospital walls. She said the industry offered average wages and generated about $50 million in direct and indirect taxes for the county and local municipalities.
The industry is bolstered by the robust local healthcare industry including research centers, universities, and hospitals. The shipping capabilities of the FedEx hub in Memphis also mean devices can get from the assembly line into hospitals in just a few hours.
Workforce development needs
Beverly Robertson, president, and CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber said Memphis was a good place to grow a business, and more companies are currently in the pipeline to operate in Memphis than there have been in two decades.
“We are working very, very hard to reel those businesses in and to upskill employees so that we have a talented pipeline,” she said.
Gilmore said that to continue to grow the industry, workers with a specialized skillset are needed. The most needed positions are skilled manufacturing, CNC machinists and manufacturing, and quality engineers. Design and development engineers are needed, too, she said.
Robertson said the chamber had two large projects in the works, one of which the organization hopes to open in South Memphis or North Memphis in early 2023, to provide credentialing in advanced manufacturing.
“We are really concerned about making sure that our young people, and adults who want to upskill themselves, have an opportunity to get credentialed in the areas of need for these in-demand and higher wage jobs,” she said.
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The chamber has already acquired two large buildings for those activities and is working to attract the rest of the necessary funding to being programming. Robertson added that training Memphians for these highly skilled, and high-paying, jobs could help alleviate some of the poverty and crime issues the city has grappled with for years.
Gwyn Fisher, the greater Memphis regional director for the state department of economic and community development, said the continued growth of the industry was essential for the state as a whole.
“What we’re really seeing here is the perfect marriage… industry-leading from the front, not leaving academia to guess what they need,” she said.
Gilmore said the Memphis area is the second-largest in the country for medical devices. She said she hopes it becomes No. 1.
“We are genuinely not satisfied. We can and will do more,” she said. “This is just a start… We want more companies. We want more jobs. We want more impact. And there is growth out there to be had, and we would love for that growth to be happening here.”
Corinne S Kennedy covers economic development and healthcare for The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached via email at[email protected]