High-tech company finds new production plant over Zoom

17 March, 21

The biotech sector continues its growth streak, remaining resilient amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, like businesses across almost every industry, the pandemic looked to put Sandvik Materials Technology’s medical sector expansion on hold. Instead of delaying plans to open a new production unit, the medical wire business with its EXERA® products negotiated a new facility online — without setting foot in their new location. Gary Davies, head of the medical business unit at Sandvik Materials Technology, explains their virtual journey.

Part of Sandvik Materials Technology, the medical business unit produces high grade, fine wires and wire-based components under the trademark EXERA® in a production unit in Palm Coast, Florida, USA. The wires are used for various fields of medical technology, such as vascular therapy, monitoring devices for diabetes care and in neurostimulation for people with Parkinson’s disease.

As a high-tech engineering firm with an established medical wire business, Sandvik had all the pieces in place to expand into a new location in the United States. Everything, besides one integral part — a new production facility. Ordinarily, finding a new location would involve visits to multiple states and cities, numerous site tours and countless meetings. We’d take our time, getting a real feel for potential locations. But, at a time where meeting physically wasn’t an option, we took the whole process online.

A small and carefully chosen team from the production unit in Palm Coast, conducted the site selection process. Each member of the team was hand-picked to ensure a variety of expertise, background and knowledge of the project needs. Other departments, such as legal and risk management, were only involved when necessary, to keep our virtual appointments streamlined.

Once the project team was assembled, we began our site selection process using a basic set of parameters. For example, we needed to consider the site’s proximity to our customer base — with one of the key sales areas for EXERA® products located in Southwest America. EXERA® wires are highly specialised and precise, used in devices that target complex areas of the human body like the heart, brain and spine, so our hiring pool needed to consist of experts with experience in a rather niche field.

To aid future expansion, the location also needed to offer potential for further long-term growth. Identifying these needs narrowed our search down to three states: Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.

Home to the University of Arizona, and the second largest city in the state, Tucson was our final decision. We knew that the city is emerging as a thriving biotech hub, with a world-class technical workforce emerging from the university, Pima Community College and Arizona State University. Southern Arizona’s record of economic growth and stability also impressed us, with Tucson even named one of the top ten American cities best positioned to recover from COVID-19.

With a location decided, the hunt for a facility began. We found using online real estate portal CREXi a suitable alternative to making multiple site visits, and used local commercial estate agents to help us virtually tour the sites via Zoom. As well as multiple real estate agents, several other local partners aided our search. We needed to probe Tucson’s economic development to help us understand how the area would meet our needs for location, talent and the cost of doing business. Sun Corridor, the economic development group in Tucson, guided us through much of this process and continued to support us after we had made our final choice.

For the team, finding partners that could connect with us virtually and advocate for us when we were not physically available was crucial to our search.

After logging over 50 hours of virtual meetings, our medical business unit’s next manufacturing plant was selected. Despite the additional screen time, our efforts were worth it. In fact, the time and money invested in the search for a new plant were considerably less than if we had followed our typical process.

The year 2020 transformed the way companies do business, in ways we never expected it to. If you’d have told me that our global med-tech company would be expanding in a city we’d never previously visited, I’d certainly have some questions. Now, we’re planning to replicate the all-virtual site selection process for expansions moving forward — pandemic or not.

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