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A Healthy Initiative

Oakland County’s Medical Main Street drives development

By Ilene Wolf

Pages 10-11

When County Executive L. Brooks Patterson saw that the life sciences industry was growing in Oakland County in the mid-2000s, he hired a consultant to find out just how many hospitals, medical device makers, pharmaceutical companies and related businesses there were in the area.

The tally was 4,300.

Realizing that the county had a very solid base in the sector, Patterson charged his economic development team to sell it to entrepreneurs and established businesses. He suggested three possible brand names for the initiative. His staff voted and in 2008, they chose Medical Main Street.

In the five years since then, Medical Main Street has helped 33 companies locate or expand in the county, facilitated $851 million in new investment and fostered 4,800 new jobs.

“And to us that’s a great start,” said Irene Spanos, director of economic development and community affairs for Oakland County. “[But] we’re not satisfied as to where we are yet. We want to grow the brand of Medical Main Street not only nationally, but internationally.”

Spanos works to help businesses thrive, whether it’s introducing an entrepreneur to a venture capitalist, talking up Oakland businesses on a trade mission, or going to an international medical industry conference, like the one she’s scheduled to attend in April in Japan.

Spanos and her team have attended similar conferences and gone on trade missions in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As a result, she says there are now companies in Germany and Italy that are very interested in what the companies on Medical Main Street have to offer.

Since 2008, Medical Main Street has been a destination for an alliance of businesses in the life sciences industry in Oakland County and beyond, including hospitals, universities, medical device manufacturers and biopharma companies.

Medical Main Street uses a variety of strategies to entice life science businesses to locate in the area, including tax incentives for a business that relocated from the East — Total Repair Express Michigan Manufacturing LLC (TRE).

When CEO Christian Mills wanted to move his business from New Jersey to Lake Orion, Medical Main Street helped him get a 12-year, 50-percent break on property taxes. Mills, who has since sold the instrument repair part of his company to concentrate on fixing medical equipment, estimates his total tax savings at up to $144,000.

“Every penny counts in a small business,” he said. “If we save a hundred grand, it’s a part-time employee or it helps us put that cash toward equipment.”

In addition to helping secure tax breaks, Medical Main Street offers the services of Oakland County’s business development team. This can include help finding financing, site location, business introductions, workforce development and business consulting.

Medical industry players can also tap the Medical Main Street board, which is made up of some of the area’s top health care leaders (see sidebar), for help and advice.

Also at the ready is Automation Alley, which claims to be Michigan’s biggest technology business association. Automation Alley offers a soft landing for new firms via its International Business Center, which includes months of free executive office space complete with conference rooms and support staff.

Dr. Stephen Bartol, CEO of Sentio LLC, was one of Medical Main Street’s first clients. He needed office space for his startup spinal nerve-mapping software company. But he got so much more.

Spanos helped Bartol find lease property in Southfield. Not only that, county staffers wrote and distributed an initial press release for Sentio that led to at least two media placements, a crucial step for attracting venture capital.

“Since then, she’s a go-to person every time I need a press release,” said Bartol, who recently sought media attention when he won patents for three of his inventions.  Their publicity has been very helpful in getting our name known.”

Medical Main Street continues to expand its marketing push. It hosted its first conference, INNO-VENTION 2012, in October. More than 400 people attended, including physicians, group purchasing organization representatives and venture capitalists, to learn and share ideas about the life cycle of medical device development. The vice president of government affairs for the Medical Device Manufacturers Association, a national trade association for entrepreneurial medical technology companies, keynoted the conference.

The conference was live-streamed to more than 1,000 people, and social media extended its reach to 57,000 more in the U.S. and Europe, North and South America, Asia and the Middle East. A 30-minute highlights show aired on Detroit Public Television.

Plans for INNO-VENTION 2013 are already under way. The conference, to be held in November in Troy, is to focus on how information technology is changing health care, and IT’s impact on the next generation of medical devices. Word must be getting around, because the county is already getting calls from people interested in attending and from potential sponsors.

Spanos said Medical Main Street will focus on working with OU INCubator, a SmartZone incubator at Oakland University, this year to help eight local patent-holding physicians commercialize their ideas. All have great innovations, she said.

“We can help write a business plan, with FDA approval, building a prototype and with raising capital. The life cycle of any medical device can be done right here in Michigan.” Spanos said.

The Medical Main Street Board

The Medical Main Street Board includes executives Dr. Gerold Bepler, president and CEO, Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, Gene Michalski, president and CEO of Beaumont Health System; Khaledur (Sumon) Rashid, Beckman Coulter; Dr. Frank Sottile, interim president and CEO, Crittenton Hospital Medical Center; Lynn Torossian, president, DMC Huron Valley Sinai Hospital; Mark Diekman, chief financial officer, Ferndale Laboratories; Nancy Schlichting, president and CEO, Henry Ford Health System; Dr. Gerard Housey, president and CEO, Housey Pharmaceuticals; Phil Incarnati, president and CEO, McLaren Health Care; Stephen Rapundalo, executive director, MichBio; Tim Meyer, Ph.D. and chancellor, Oakland Community College; Dr. Gary Russi, president, Oakland University; Gary Abusamra, president and managing director, Oxus Inc.; Rob Chioini, president, Rockwell Medical Technologies; Dr. Michael Wiemann, president, St. John Providence Health System; and Jack Weiner, president and CEO, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland, as well as State Representative Gail Haines.


Ilene Wolf is a metro Detroit freelance writer.