A new program to help medical device manufacturers in the Buffalo Niagara region sell their products in China got a boost Thursday from nearly $700,000 in federal and local funding aimed at helping those companies clear export-related hurdles.
The three-year program, which will be administered by the World Trade Center of Buffalo Niagara, is designed to help local medical device manufacturers learn the ins and outs of exporting to China, a fast-growing market with a vast population that is expected to become one of the world's largest markets for medical devices.
"We have to be focused globally," said Christopher Johnson, president of the trade center. "This is really the cornerstone of domestic prosperity."
The program will provide resources, in conjunction with staff from the U.S. Department of Commerce, to help medical device manufacturers navigate regulatory issues in China, as well as offer help on finding ways to get their products into Chinese markets, Johnson said. The program also will help medical device manufacturers find export-related financing from federal agencies and private sources, and offer assistance in figuring out supply chain and customs-related issues.
Officials said the initiative is focusing on medical device manufacturers because there are about 250 medical equipment makers and medical research centers in the Buffalo Niagara region, many of which have developed products that now are ready for commercial sales.
And the Chinese market is a focus because of its size and growth potential.
"We know the future of our economy is in high-tech areas like life sciences," said Marnie LaVigne, associate vice president for economic development at the University at Buffalo, which is one of the key players in the development of the local life sciences industry and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
"We've created yet another opportunity for our area to grow our regional innovation economy," she said.
The program is being funded with $682,000 in grants and services, including $218,000 from the Commerce Department.
The Buffalo Niagara Trade Foundation also is providing funding, while the trade center is contributing services, Johnson said.
Other local foundations also are providing support for the initiative.
"This is exactly what we are looking for in this grant program," said Maureen Smith, a Commerce Department deputy assistant secretary, who attended Thursday's announcement, held at the New York State Center for Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences in Buffalo.
U.S. Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Hamburg, said the program is an important step in the development of a segment of the local economy that has the potential to become a leading source of new jobs in the Buffalo Niagara region.
"They do an incredible job locally, but if we're going to expand our economy, it's because we've found new markets," she said. "Now, they're going to have resources available to them that they've never had before."
But selling medical devices in China won't be easy, officials said. Chinese regulatory agencies can be "cumbersome and challenging" to deal with, Johnson said.
In addition, Hochul said local companies also are concerned about protecting their intellectual property if they move into Chinese markets.
The program will hold an inaugural event from 4-5 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Center for Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, 701 Ellicott St., to outline the initiative to local medical device manufacturers.
Registration and additional information is available at www.bioinformatics.buffalo.edu.