Steady med tech growth good for jobs outlook

By Pearl Feier

Recently the federal government’s insurer of bank deposits, the FDIC, released its report that New England had gained jobs at a slower pace than any other U.S. region during fourth-quarter 2005. While New England is still in the midst of a slow recovery, with high technology employers adding fewer jobs than expected, the staffing and recruiting outlook for the medical technology industry in Massachusetts continues to be promising for 2006 with steady, consistent growth.

The medical technology industry in Massachusetts encompasses a wide spectrum of companies ranging from the more well-known medical device companies specializing in areas including orthopedics, cardiac devices and implants to imaging companies providing molecular reporting; from instrument companies developing gene sequencers to clinical information systems companies serving hospitals and medical practices. According to a report produced by the University of Massachusetts for the trade association MassMedic in 2004, medical device companies alone have about 20,000 employees in Massachusetts for some of the largest medical device companies in the United States: Boston Scientific Corp., Smith & Nephew Endoscopy, Tyco Healthcare, Philips Medical Systems, and Johnson & Johnson.

The big companies have the revenue that also allow them to boost their product-development efforts, which will continue to fuel job growth. They continue to build infrastructure in Massachusetts, including Boston Scientific’s purchase of Addition Hill Corporate Center in Marlborough in 2004. In addition to hiring for its headquarters in Natick, Boston Scientific continues to aggressively hire in its new Marlborough facility for positions including engineers, biostatisticians, medical directors, regulatory affairs, product managers, program managers, research associates and technicians. Boston Scientific’s $27 billion acquisition of Guidant Corp. is not only noteworthy as a blockbuster deal, but also because it represents a Massachusetts company that is getting bigger. A great development for the state, given that the number of large companies based in Boston has dropped dramatically in recent years through acquisitions of Fleet, Gillette and John Hancock.

The jobs-growth projection for the next few years is considered to be steady, not aggressive for a few reasons. While midsize companies like Cytyc Corp. in Marlborough continue to grow, others have only a handful of new openings. Massachusetts has difficulty attracting new large medical device companies or other Fortune 500 corporations, although efforts are under way to create some change.

Massachusetts’ medical technology industry also continues to be poised for steady growth because of the increase in investment dollars flowing in the industry. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP’s Moneytree survey for 2005, the life sciences sector including medical devices inched up to a five-year high in 2005, while venture capital investments continued to dip in software, slipping by 10 percent, and networking hitting an eight-year low. Massachusetts ranked No. 2 in venture capital investments in the medical technology industry.

Small to midsize venture-backed medical technology companies have been able to hang on longer financially rather than having to sell out early. In addition to hiring mechanical engineers, there is now an increase in product manager, regulatory, clinical, quality, sales and in some cases application specialist and bioinformatics positions. While there are a lot of factors involved, including U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations, in how fast these companies can grow, realistically some of these companies will make it to 100 to 200 employees in the next year or two, some will go public and others will be acquired.

In some cases, more aggressive growth over the next year or two appears to be among technology companies that are clinical information systems companies with hospitals and medical practices as their customers. These companies have been growing rapidly, providing products including electronic medical records, practice management software, and mobile devices making patient information more accessible for physicians. These companies will continue to need software engineers, software training specialists and project managers, among other positions.

Pearl Freier is president of Cambridge BioPartners, an executive search and work force strategy firm serving the biotech and medical technology industries.