Medical Devices Industry Enjoys Healthy Gains : Manufacturing: The field is burgeoning, survey finds. It is helping offset loss of high-paying, high-tech jobs in the region.


The medical instruments industry is a significant force in California's economy and is likely to become even more so, according to a recently released survey.

California's medical instruments manufacturers generated $6.3 billion in 1991 revenue, more than the combined total for companies in the second-, third- and fourth-ranked states, the state Trade and Commerce Agency wrote in a report accompanying the survey results. They were released last month.

The report, which uses data from 1990-92, cites the burgeoning medical instruments industry as proof of "the state's superiority in bringing together a variety of high technologies to manufacture a complex product."

Covering everything from simple dental picks to sophisticated imaging devices, the report portrays California's medical instruments manufacturers as a dominant national force in terms of employment, revenue and foreign sales.

Southern California is home to more than half of the 837 medical instruments manufacturers identified by state researchers and accounts for 70% of the industry's statewide employment of nearly 45,000, according to the survey. Of those, Orange County had 8,838 people employed by the industry, and Los Angeles County had 9,413.

Biomedical industry observers said Tuesday that the researchers may even have understated the industry's growing significance in a region stung by defense and aerospace cutbacks.

State officials "will probably be shocked to learn that the industry in Orange County is five times larger than they think it is and about three times larger in Los Angeles County," said David Anast, publisher of the Costa Mesa-based Biomedical Market Newsletter.

Anast said the state survey probably failed to locate hundreds of tiny companies that opened in recent years.

The survey also dramatically understates the industry's overall importance to California's economy, the researchers said, because of the difficulty in tracking related laboratory workers in research and development or employees who operate and maintain medical instruments.

California accounts for 11% of U.S. manufacturing jobs but has 19% of the nation's medical instrument manufacturing positions, the report states.

The industry also pays healthy wages, according to the survey. The average annual wage for employees at California's medical instruments companies in 1990 was $33,400, compared to the $29,400 average for all U.S. manufacturing workers. Pay within the industry in the San Francisco Bay Area was 25% higher than the state average, while Southern California's was 12% lower.

The report suggests that the industry is poised for continued growth, largely because nearly 20% of the new companies registering with the Food and Drug Administration during 1991 and 1992 were from California.

And, researchers said, the state's medical equipment industry will continue to benefit from strong overseas sales. More than 20% of the nation's medical equipment shipments now originate in California, the report said, and "export opportunities look even brighter in the future."

"I'm pleased that the state is finally devoting some attention to verifying the true size of the medical manufacturing industry," Anast said. "From this type of data, many other good things are going to flow."

Medical Instrument Mecca

About six in 10 of the state's medical instrument manufacturers are in Southern California, as are two-thirds of the jobs. Figures are based on a 1992 survey:

Average County Manufacturers Employees annual wage Los Angeles 209 9,413 $36,992 Orange 139 8,838 37,742 San Diego 87 5,165 35,628 Ventura 28 1,376 32,566 Riverside 22 2,223 31,909 Santa Barbara 17 1,518 31,345 Southern California Total 502 28,533 $34,364 Statewide Total 837 42,078 $39,227

Source: California Office of Economic Research; Researched by JANICE L. JONES / Los Angeles Times

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