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VOL. 126 | NO. 237 | Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Education Key to Life Sciences Jobs


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Gene Woods

As pioneers in industrial real estate, we’ve forever beaten the drum about our area’s logistics prowess. We’ve been known as America’s Distribution Center for decades, with a transportation hub that boasts superior rail, roadway, river and air cargo access.

When our area successfully recruits companies such as Mitsubishi and Electrolux, or when companies such as ASICS expand here, we naturally feel it is because the market has done a great job of promoting the benefits of locating in a distribution mecca. After all, more than 10 percent of employment in our market is in distribution-related jobs.

So it may come as a surprise to you, as it did to me, to learn that, since 2001, one in four new jobs in Shelby County has actually been in the life sciences area.

We can trace the roots of this phenomenal growth in life sciences employment to Campbell Clinic, a world-renowned orthopedic facility founded by Dr. Willis Campbell in 1909. It likely isn’t coincidental that since then, giants such as Medtronic Inc., Smith and Nephew, and Wright Medical Technology Inc. have helped to put Shelby County on the map as home to the country’s second-largest concentration of orthopedic and spinal device manufacturers.

I recently attended a Bartlett Chamber of Commerce meeting about the chamber’s Vision 20/20 initiative. Colliers International in Memphis, along with a number of other area companies, sees tremendous value in supporting the chamber in its quest to, among other things, “educate” the community about this growing industry in our market.

Ultimately the chamber wants to ensure that we have people with the right education and skills to fill the highly skilled jobs tied to this industry. But first, it’s critical that we educate ourselves about the prevalence of these medical device manufacturing and related companies in our midst and that we understand how vital they are and will continue to be to our local economy.

We need look no further than our aging population to feel pretty good about the longevity of companies that manufacture products such as joint replacement systems and pacemakers. Did you realize there are more than 40 medical device and related life-science companies in northeast Shelby County alone? One of the most important ways we can ensure the retention and expansion of this industry is to make sure companies have ready access to a properly trained workforce. It is disheartening to know that, with a county unemployment rate of nearly 11 percent, many of these companies struggle to find qualified candidates to fill well-paying jobs

Of course we’ll continue to beat the drum about logistics in the Memphis metro. After all, the ability to easily move product in and out of the market benefits any manufacturer, whether they make running shoes – or knee implants to keep us running longer. But we’d also like to drum up support for efforts to bridge the gap in a growing number of life sciences job opportunities and the skilled workforce to fill those jobs.

The first step, as they say, is awareness.

Gene Woods is president of Colliers International in Memphis and has specialized in industrial brokerage with the company for the past 40 years.

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