When Emma Schwartz looks at the landscape in El Paso, her eyes don’t linger on the dry earth or the jagged mountains. Instead, she sees an ecosystem poised to advance the health of people around the world.
Schwartz is the president of the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation, an 11-year-old nonprofit tasked with cultivating the El Paso region’s healthcare and biomedical manufacturing industries. The MCA Foundation fosters the growth of the biomedical industry through workforce development and by providing access to capital. The foundation also offers an innovation fund, clinical trials network and healthcare asset mapping.
In 2016, the foundation opened a $29-million, 60,000-sq.-ft. biomedical research and incubator facility called The Cardwell Collaborative. The collaborative is part “tech park” and part incubator, bringing researchers, students and private startup companies together under one roof.
“We’re looking at advanced manufacturing and healthcare, which are really two different fields, but we care about both of them,” Schwartz explains. “A lot of our potential involvement in the biomedical field would be in device manufacturing and product development for medical devices. So, we’re focusing a lot of attention on growing that portion of the industry, which is already pretty strong.”
Though Schwartz and other key players such as The Borderplex Alliance, The City of El Paso, and regional educational institutions have developed a clear vision for the area’s healthcare and medical manufacturing industries, she says many people are simply unaware how expansive the industry currently is within the borderplex — and how much potential still exists for more.
Just across the US-Mexico border, the city of Juarez has a world-class manufacturing industry. There are more than 340 maquiladoras (manufacturing facilities that build products in Mexico to ship across the border into the US) and 275,000 people working within the industry in Juarez.
In the 1980s and 1990s, most of the maquilas in the region produced textiles using low-skilled, low-wage workers. But that has changed dramatically over the last 30 years.
“A lot of that moved over to China,” Schwartz explains. “It hurt this region initially. But what it did was really to force this region to evolve. If you go to Juarez now, you’ll find some of the most complex manufacturing that you can see anywhere. There’s everything from automotive to electronic and biomedical.”
“In the medical device manufacturing world, you have the advantage here of being on the border. We call it ‘smart shoring,’ where you get a lot of the advantages of low labor costs and logistics are a lot easier.”
In July 2017, the MCA announced the attraction of an EDA grant to be used to update its master plan. The grant also builds on the foundation the region has laid for out for the growth of a biomedical research park across a binational, tri-state area. The campus has drawn over $180 million in state investment support through Texas Revenue Bonds from the Texas Legislature, as well as over $300 million in El Paso County bonds for the expansion of the campus hospitals and clinics.
“Collectively, the campus has approximately 7,500 employees and over 850 medical and nursing students and residents, making it a major economic center for the city,” said the MCA. “With over 9,500 visitors passing through on a daily basis, the MCA Campus has created a synergistic academic medical campus primed for job creation, economic development, and improved healthcare outcomes in the region.”
As the sixth largest city in Texas and the largest metropolitan area on the border, El Paso provides employers with a diverse highly-skilled workforce of more than 357,000 people. The city offers a number of attractive programs including infill, redevelopment and workforce training incentives to new life science and advanced manufacturing businesses in the city.
The North American Borderplex is home to 2.5 million individuals and is one of the world’s largest bilingual workforces. The region boasts five major universities, three medical schools, and three military installations, all of which are experiencing significant growth and investment. “Our population base accounts for more than 80 percent Hispanic, that directly translates into opportunities in research and development for disease treatment and prevention that are prevalent within the Hispanic community,” says City of El Paso Economic Development Director Jessica Herrera. “The healthcare services sector has grown significantly over these last few years and is projected to be the fastest growing employment sector in the region.”
Some of the biggest names in healthcare — such as Ethicon (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson), St. Jude, GE and Siemens — operate facilities in the area. Smaller contract manufacturers also proliferate throughout the region.
For contract manufacturing companies like SEISA, this favorable business environment translates into continued growth. Since it was established in 1983, the medical device manufacturer has been serving Fortune 500 medical device makers. The company has been focused on manufacturing Food and Drug Administration Class I, II and III products, and expanded to the Slovak Republic in 2006 to reach the European market.
RexMed Health Juarez has been operating under the maquiladora program since the 1990s and works with major national and international pharmaceutical companies. The company employs 168 people and has a low turnover rate at just 1 percent.
Success stories like these are common in El Paso, where businesses find more than just sunny days and stunning scenery.
“In the medical device manufacturing world, you have the advantage here of being on the border,” Schwartz said. “We call it ‘smart shoring,’ where you get a lot of the advantages of low labor costs and logistics are a lot easier. You just have to cross the border. There isn’t a huge land mass that you have to cross to get products to market. And we have a very sophisticated, large workforce that is highly trained and highly skilled — not just on the manufacturing side, but the engineering talent, plant managers and customs brokers. Everything that’s needed to make that ecosystem work is here. It exists now.”
This Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of the City of El Paso (www.elpasotexas.gov). For information about the Medical Center of the Americas, visit www.mcafound.org. For information about the Borderplex Alliance, visit borderplexalliance.org.