Strengthening Bothell’s biomedical sector

BOTHELL — Bothell is home to most of Washington state’s biomedical device industry, which is getting new attention from local economic leaders because of its desirable jobs and growth potential.

Deborah Knutson, president of the Snohomish County Economic Development Council, said the economic impact of Bothell’s biomedical device companies has been undeniable for years. But the sector hasn’t always received the same attention as biotechnology.

“We quickly discovered we didn’t know much about the impact of the medical device sector as we thought we did,” she said.

A new study changes that. Unveiled at a biomedical device summit at the University of Washington’s Bothell campus earlier this month, it reported that the industry added about 2,500 jobs in the Puget Sound area between 2000 and 2006, amounting to an employment growth rate of more than 8 percent.

Overall, more than 5,800 workers are employed by the cluster of companies making ultrasound devices, heart defibrillators and similar medical equipment. Just under half of those workers are employed in Bothell, according to the study.

“It impacts jobs across the spectrum, from the engineers and Ph.D.s of the world to the people working in production of these devices,” said Jeff Marcell, executive vice president of enterpriseSeattle, which helped to commission the study.

Also impressively, Bothell-based medical device companies generated an estimated revenue of $1.8 billion in 2007. That represents three-fourths of the revenue generated by such companies across the region.

Even as many of the biotech companies in Bothell and Seattle have run into drug development roadblocks and financial trouble in the past year, however, local medical device companies seem to be doing well.

“They’re healthy, and it’s not as complicated and a little less costly for these companies to get products approved than it is for biotechs,” Knutson said.

SonoSite Inc., which makes hand-carried ultrasound machines, just marked the 10th anniversary of its spin-off from ATL Ultrasound, now known as Philips Ultrasound. With hundreds of local employees, Sono-Site is the fifth most-valuable public company with headquarters in Snohomish County.

Philips employs more than 1,500 people in Bothell. Other big medical device companies in the city include Cardiac Science and Verathon Inc.

Kurve Technology, focused on developing better technology for nasal spray drugs, is one of Bothell’s smaller medical device companies.

William DeGroodt, Kurve’s president and chief operating officer, said the area offered the facilities the company was looking for when it was launched in 2002.

“When we went out and started looking for space, we found lots of buildings here where you could rent just a small office and lab space,” said DeGroodt, who spoke at last week’s industry conference.

In addition to having suitable space for expansion, he said, Kurve is located within walking distance of a few of the company’s potential customers.

Verathon’s founder and chief executive Gerald McMorrow moved his company from Redmond to Bothell eight years ago. The firm employs about 350 people, including 125 locally.

“The reason I moved is that I looked at my employee database and we found the center of gravity for our employees, where they lived, was closer to Bothell,” McMorrow said.

He added it was easy in the city to find the combination of office and production space he needed.

The biomedical device study was commissioned by the city of Bothell, the UW-Bothell’s Biotechnology and Biomedical Technology Institute, the Snohomish County EDC and other regional and statewide trade associations.

The study and this month’s summit were designed to officially launch the Biomedical Device Innovation Partnership Zone around Bothell. That designation, granted last year by Gov. Chris Gregoire, gives the zone special access to state funding and other resources.

Matt Smith, vice president of the Snohomish County EDC, said the next step being planned is another industry summit later this year to focus on workforce issues. He said company executives at the recent conference expressed concern that local training and degree programs don’t always teach the skills that biomedical companies need.

The lack of collaboration and a good working relationship between the industry and the University of Washington also came up as a major issue.

Smith said he also wants to focus on keeping biomedical companies here as they grow. Doing that could help create more relatively high-wage jobs. It may also help convince new or upcoming medical device companies that south Snohomish County is a good place in which to relocate.

“We just need to help create that buzz,” he said.

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or fetters@heraldnet.com

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