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VOL. 124 | NO. 80 | Friday, April 24, 2009

Memphis Orthopedics Competitor Opens New Training Center

By Tom Wilemon

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Warsaw, Ind., which competes with Memphis for orthopedics manufacturing jobs, recently opened a state-of-the-art training center with new equipment and machinery.

The 20,000-square-foot Orthopedic and Advanced Manufacturing Training Center at the Warsaw campus of Ivy Tech Community College replaces a 5,600-square-foot facility that opened two and a half years ago.

The center quickly outgrew its old space because displaced workers who once built recreational vehicles are looking to secure orthopedics jobs, said Tracie Davis, director of marketing and communications for Ivy Tech Community College North-Central.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development provided a $751,000 grant for the equipment. It includes an AutoCAD lab, Bridgeport Type knee mills, a Brown & Sharpe coordinate measuring machine (CMM) and several other specialized pieces of manufacturing equipment.

“That’s pretty impressive,” said Cindy Fowinkle, the program coordinator of mechanical engineering technology at Southwest Tennessee Community College. “It almost sounds as if they could go into manufacturing orthopedics on site with the list of things that they have.”

However, an orthopedics expert who leads efforts to promote new discoveries and expand the industry in Memphis downplayed the new Warsaw center’s significance.

Not to worry, Memphis

Richard Tarr, the former vice president of worldwide research and emerging technologies for DePuy Orthopaedics Inc., lived in Warsaw for 20 years. After retiring in 2005, he moved to Memphis, where he is now president and executive director of the InMotion Musculoskeletal Institute.

Memphis has a much greater population base, a larger pool of workers, good training programs, advanced educational opportunities, research facilities, large hospitals and logistics advantages, he said.

“Although Warsaw is known as the ‘orthopedics capital of the world,’ that’s because of history, not because of what else is there,” Tarr said. “It started in Warsaw because one of the founders of the first company, DePuy, set up shop there. His first hire went across town and started Zimmer Manufacturing. In the 1970s, a guy from Zimmer goes across down town again and sets up Biomed.

“So that’s where the big three companies in Warsaw came from. It’s just locale. That’s the issue.”

Local assets

Tarr said the state of Indiana has been overdue in capitalizing on the orthopedics industry. Southwest Tennessee Community College, the William R. Moore College of Technology and other local training centers have programs that meet the needs of the orthopedics industry for manufacturing workers, he said.

Fowinkle, who spent 10 years in the industry as an employee of Smith & Nephew and Wright Medical Group, said she works with an advisory committee of representatives from orthopedics companies in designing the program.

“I feel like we are in tune with what (students’) needs are,” Fowinkle said.

However, she said the program is fluid enough to provide the computer and technical skills for a wide range of manufacturing jobs, not just in orthopedics.

She does have one item on her wish list – a computerized CMM to replace the manual one at Southwest.

“The one we have has been here awhile,” Fowinkle said. “We tried to do software upgrades to get it up to speed. It’s not doing exactly what we want it to do.”

She said a table-top device would probably cost $40,000 to $50,000.

Students needed

Ivy Tech has gotten donations from the orthopedics industry as it raises money to establish a new campus in Warsaw and other support from the community, Davis said. She gave the example of David VanVactor, a contractor who agreed to build and lease a new training center to the college twice in fewer than three years.

Grants from orthopedics companies have helped Ivy Tech raise about $2.7 million toward a $2.8 million goal to fund a new campus in Warsaw, the county seat of Kosciusko County. The county population is about 76,000, according to a 2007 estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Davis said over the course of a semester, about 1,000 students receive training in the center.

Mike Stephens, the dean of business, career studies and technology at Southwest Tennessee Community College, said he would like to see more student demand for technical training programs. Although enrollment is up about 10 percent, most of those students are in transfer programs for baccalaureate degrees.

Two-year technical programs can also be a wise choice, he said.

“They are not dirty jobs anymore,” Stephens said. “They are high-technology, pretty good-paying jobs. Our enrollments in some of those areas are not what they used to be, say, 10 years ago. We need more students. We’re confident that we can find the jobs, especially in the medical industry for the students.”

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