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Southwest California is becoming biotech incubator

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Just one-hour north of San Diego is Southwest California, a fast growing region that has become a fertile incubator of biotech and medical device companies.

The region, which includes Southwest Riverside County and the communities of Lake Elsinore, Murrieta and Temecula, has spawned some well-known life science firms and is home to a well-trained and technically adept work force.

"The region has a lot of qualified people," explained Rikki Bauer, chief financial officer of Medical Extrusion Technologies Inc., a Murrieta company she and her husband founded about 14 years ago. "But unfortunately what they are doing is commuting to places like San Diego and Irvine."

Some hardy souls don't mind the commute but many would trade the three hours a day on the freeway for a job that paid less closer to home. That was the conclusion of a survey conducted by Godbe Research & Analysis for the I-15 Interregional Partnership, which looked into commuting patterns of residents in Western Riverside County.

"Approximately half of the participants (in the survey) ... indicated that they would be willing to work locally for a reduced salary, typically between 5 and 10 percent," the survey said.

Southwest California has created thousands of good paying biotech jobs over the last few decades, but the region has been unable to keep up with the influx of new residents from neighboring counties who commute to good paying jobs elsewhere. Many of the newcomers work at the more than 120 biomedical companies in San Diego County.

The built-in pool of homegrown workers has allowed companies such as Guidant, Boston Scientific and Chemicon International to produce high quality medical devices, equipment and reagents in Southwest California.

In many cases, the larger companies turn to local suppliers to keep assembly lines humming. The big firms also are a proving ground for entrepreneurs that eventually strike out on their own.

Such was the case with Medical Extrusion Technologies, which is considering an expansion that could increase its workforce by about 20 percent, Bauer said. Rikki's husband, Tom, was an engineer with Advanced Cardiovascular Corp., a precursor to Guidant. MET supplies its custom plastic tubing to customers worldwide, but it also is a supplier to Guidant.

Those charged with attracting new employers to the region recently renamed the area Southwest California last year as part of a marketing effort to let executives and decision makers know about the unique qualities and benefits of living and working there.

"The branding of Southwest Riverside County with a new identity is a reflection on the continuing dramatic growth of the region, and the quality of businesses, professionals, and residents that make up the vitality of the area," according to Dennis Frank, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Southwest Riverside County, a regional job retention group. "The past 14 years have seen the region grow from predominantly rural to a mixture of high-tech, medical, research, and manufacturing companies..."

When Boston Scientific acquired a small medical device company in French Valley in the late 1990s, its executives were surprised to find that the area was home to a pool of talented workers, said Doug Rimer, regional vice president of operations for Boston Scientific.

"The hiring pool was pretty solid," he said. "Recruitment is relatively easy there."

For more information on Southwest California, contact Gregory L. Lee, manager, Business Development for the Southwest California Economic Alliance at (951) 696-1578 or e-mail glee@southwestcalifornia.com.


Submitted by Southwest California Economic Alliance

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