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Medical device sector creates jobs in Tijuana

Admin | 22.06.2012

While Baja California’s maquiladora industry has seen slow growth in recent years, some of its sectors have been booming — and leading the pack is the assembly of medical devices.

While Baja California’s maquiladora industry has seen slow growth in recent years, some of its sectors have been booming — and leading the pack is the assembly of medical devices.

In the past six years, the number of direct jobs in Tijuana’s medical-device sector has more than doubled — from 15,000 to nearly 31,000, according to state and industry figures. Across Baja California, more than 42,000 people are employed in the sector, accounting for more than half the medical-device industry jobs in Mexico.

Tijuana workers now assemble medical products and components such as pacemakers, intravenous bands, feeding tubes, orthopedic devices, thermometers, blood pressure cuffs.

Proponents of medical-device manufacturing said its growth holds promise for both sides of the border. Companies can compete better by focusing on high-tech and research-and-development operations in Southern California while emphasizing low-cost manufacturing in Baja California, said José Figueroa, a medical-device consultant and past president of the state’s medical-device cluster.

“Otherwise, places like China, India, Brazil, Russia are going to take those jobs out of our region,” Figueroa said Wednesday at a medical device suppliers forum in Tijuana.

Such was the message this week during a tour organized by the Tijuana Economic Development Corporation, known as DEITAC, and Tijuana Innovadora, a group that promotes the city.

The tour included a visit to Welch Allyn, a U.S. medical-device manufacturer that opened its Tijuana facility in 2006 and currently employs 730 people. After closing its 182-employee plant in San Diego, the New York-based company opted to establish a Mexican facility where labor costs are about one-fifth of those in the United States.

While other factors played a role, “the practical reality is that it costs less to assemble a product in Mexico,” said plant manager Dana Collins. A key reason for choosing Tijuana, he said, was that it “already had a very established medical-device presence. There was an infrastructure.”

The origins of the medical-device industry in Tijuana date back more than three decades, Figueroa said. After the sector experienced significant growth in the 1990s, the state incorporated medical-device manufacturing in its strategic planning. By 2006, an independent medical-device cluster was created.

The city currently has 538 maquiladoras, with nearly 151,000 positions, according to the Maquiladora Industry Association in Tijuana. Along with the aerospace and automotive sectors, medical-device manufacturing has helped revive the overall industry, which was hard-hit by declining U.S. consumer demand during the global economic downturn, said Norma Yael Lomeli Pierce, the group’s president.

“We’re recovering, little by little,” she said. “The medical sector is bringing us much innovation and new technology. They’re investing to add value to their products and to reduce their costs.”

Among the latest developments has been the establishment of a sterilization plant for medical equipment. Avantti MediClear, expected to launch operations early next year, is building a facility in eastern Tijuana.

Gerardo Meave, president of Avantti, said the high concentration of medical-device companies was key to his company’s decision to establish a facility that will use electro-beam technology to sterilize medical products.

Source: www.utsandiego.com