Medical Main Street is just what the doctor ordered for Oakland County growth

That investment has paid off. In 2010, Medical Main Street quadrupled its first-year investment, as six new companies chose to relocate or expand their Oakland County operations. Together, the year’s efforts brought in more than $21 million in investment dollars, while adding and retaining 600 jobs.

 In the two years since its creation, Medical Main Street has attracted or retained 10 life science companies, generated investment of about $27 million and created or retained more than 900 jobs.

“Medical Main Street continues to show phenomenal growth,” Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said. “I’m convinced over the years it will make Oakland County and Southeast Michigan a destination for excellence in health care and the life science industries.”

The Prescription for Economic Health

Michigan, of course, has always been known as the place where automobiles are made. But Oakland County’s Emerging Sectors Initiative, of which Medical Main Street plays a part. Dave Schreiber is the chief strategist for Medical Main Street. He says Patterson was right in assessing that the county should do more to attract companies from other industries to create jobs.

“The automotive sector will always be the core of our economy. But as Brooks Patterson recognized almost 10 years ago now, to remain economically healthy, we needed to diversity our economy,” he says.

Schreiber says what surprised him most about the Emerging Sectors initiative was how economically diverse of a region Oakland County was all along.

“We discovered when we looked under the hood of the economy was that the automotive sector masked a very vibrant and diverse economy,” he says. “When Brooks first charged us with attracting Emerging Sector companies, we really thought that we had none in Oakland County, or very few. But when we started exploring, we were amazed and very pleased to discover just how many life science and health care companies were in the area.”

Oakland County asked the Anderson Economic Group to prepare a study showing the amount of existing jobs in health care and life sciences in the area. To their surprise, there were already as many as 98,000 people working in Oakland County in this previously unheralded sector.

“And these are all well-paying jobs,” he adds. “That’s an important consideration. These are not entry-level jobs for the most part. These are very well-paid, so they contribute greatly to the community.”

Building Regional Leadership

Medical Main Street can count among its allies a unique mix of world-class hospitals, universities, medical device firms, laboratories and life science companies, brought together with one common interest: developing Oakland County as a hotspot for health technology and a global center of innovation.

They’re not used to working together, Schreiber says. But when it comes to Medical Main Street, they’ve learned they can do more working together, rather than alone. And together, Schreiber says, they’re focused on 2011’s goal of branding the southeastern Michigan region as a life sciences and health care center.

“The communities which are currently recognized, which have the reputation, they have an individual entity such as a Mayo Clinic, which is world-renowned,” Schreiber explains. “While we don’t have one institution that stands out like that, when you put together the multiple research hospitals and other research institutions in our regions, we have far more research and new product development and new technologies being developed and tested in our region than in Cleveland or Minneapolis or these other regions.”

The challenge, he says, is getting companies from other regions to see that, while Detroit might not have one famous center for research like the Cleveland Clinic, we have Beaumont Hospitals, the DMC, Henry Ford, and the University of Michigan. “Our challenge is getting people to see that — to see them together as a regional center of health care and life science innovation. It’s a lot easier when you just have one entity to focus on.”

Irene Spanos works with the life sciences companies already located here to grow their markets globally from their Oakland County “home.” A big part of her role is initiating and developing relationships with new companies. She says that in attracting two of the county’s recent successes, OXUS America (which develops and manufactures portable oxygen machines) and CJPS Medical Devices (which produces home health care monitoring devices), the competition was stiff.

“These companies could really have gone anywhere in the world to set up their facilities. OXUS American has a Korean parent company, so when I mean anywhere in the world, I REALLY mean anywhere in the world,” she says. “But both those companies saw the rich engineering, IT, and Manufacturing talent that exists here and when looking at costs, found Oakland County Michigan to be a very attractive place for their business to locate here.”

Main Street Ambassadors

One of the key secrets to Medical Main Street’s success? The amount of actors invested in seeing this initiative take off.

An advisory board, comprised of a diverse group of change agents in the Metro Detroit economy, from hospitals and schools to pharmaceutical companies, advises Oakland County on how best to attract companies to relocate to the area.

But the advisory board members weren’t the only members of the community who wanted to help, Schreiber says.

“Unsolicited by us, we had a number of … now over 30 organizations who said, ‘we think what you’re doing is great. What can we do to help? How can we support you in this?'” he remembers. “The best things these folks could do for us was to become ambassadors for our community. Go out and help to spread the word about what’s going on in our area.”

Spanos says it’s a diverse group of IP Attorneys, accountants, health insurance companies and other business services. “These are folks that that know the national and global healthcare scene and can offer great advice and guidance to our growing life science companies.”

Medical Main Street ambassadors are given business cards with their names, logos and website info to pass out at trade shows or business meetings. They ask doctors to identify themselves as practicing in Medical Main Street when they give speeches at conferences.

“They bring prospects to us (oftentimes, their clients that
are expanding and our Ambassadors want them to benefit from Medical Main Street),
they open doors for us when we go on trade missions and trade shows,  and
most importantly they are a valuable resource for the life sciences companies
already here,” Spanos explains.

The Future of Medical Main Street

With over $25 million dollars in life science and health care investment committed to Michigan just this year, the future looks bright for this emerging sector’s continued growth.

Spanos says one Medical Main Street is in the final stages of putting together the first truly state-wide “Michigan Medical Device Manufacturer’s Directory.” This way, companies around the world can easily find suppliers here in Michigan; from injection molding to precision machining. “These are all companies who are now or who have in the past already done work in the Medical Device arena, so they are already familiar with FDA rules and quality standards,” she explains. “Even before completion, two medical device companies have found suppliers using this directory.” It will be available on Medical Main Street’s website for the public to use.

The biggest goal for Medical Main Street? Cracking the top 10 communities nationwide for life science and health care industry. By 2020, Spanos says she thinks Michigan will be known around the world as a hotbed for new ideas, innovations and forward-thinking companies.

“I envision the medical community looking at Oakland County and the entire Southeast region of the state for the latest innovation in health care and the treatment of human ailments,” she proclaims. “I envision it’s where the latest medical equipment will come from and where the most educated, well-trained workforce — engineers, chemists, biotech professionals, doctors, nurses — will be clustered. I think Michigan has what it takes to be the center for health care innovation.”

Learn more about Medical Main Street by visiting the website.

Photographs courtesy of Oakland County

Ashley C. Woods is the editor of Oakland County Prosper. Send her a message here.