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No industry is recession-proof, but marketing manager James Kasprzyk reasons that healthcare and medicine are "somewhat insulated from the valleys of the overall market."
His assumption was shaken in May when he was laid off from a Flagstaff, Ariz., company that manufactures process and testing equipment for medical-device companies. Kasprzyk said was comfortable taking a breather before launching a concerted job search in September.
But his job search leads him to believe the size and market position of the employer will affect a company’s ability to weather the valleys of a recession more than the industry and his location in Arizona proved to be a boomtown for biotechnology and medical jobs. Kasprzyk is now a senior marketing manager at Ventana Medical Systems a division of healthcare and pharmaceuticals giant Roche Pharmaceuticals.
“In the current environment, to have that sort of corporate backing, at whatever company,” he said, “is going to make you feel like you have a much stronger position than at other [companies] in the industry, where there are a lot of unknowns with layoffs and so on.”
Since Kasprzyk took the job at Ventana, Roche announced it would add another 350 to 400 positions to the Tucson facility where Kasprzyk works.
From the beginning, job security guided Kasprzyk’s career. Kasprzyk graduated from a master’s program in International Business at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1995, as the U.S. was coming out of a recession, and layoffs were on his mind. He sought out industries, he said, that could endure tough times.
His interest in marketing medical devices combined chance and strategy. While pursuing an internship, Kasprzyk looked for a field that would apply his degree but in industries he identified as secure. He chose medical devices and wound up at the U.S. Export Assistance Center in Chicago. There he worked under a trade associate who focused on the medical-device industry in the upper Midwest and found it rewarding work.
"Everybody had a passion," he said. “The work they were doing was actually making a difference in people's lives."
Arizona’s biotech and medical boom
Kasprzyk was not alone in his search for a “protected” industry. Arizona, burned in the 1990s by several industries, notably telecom companies, that downsized staff or fled the state, has been pushing industries it considers more stable to sprout roots in Arizona.
Through tax incentives, site development and initiatives with local schools, Arizona has built a corridor of biotechnology and medical device businesses in Flagstaff, Phoenix and the Oro Valley, northwest of Tucson.
"(Arizona has) been consciously trying to attract high-paying jobs that are going to be around for a while,” he said. “Much of Arizona relies on tourism and retail. So they are really looking to develop a couple of different biotech corridors."
Kasprzykwas willing to relocate for the right job, but Arizona’s campaign to attract a base of biotechnology and medical device businesses and high-paying jobs meant he didn’t have to. Arizona was a hot spot for a medical marketing manager to find a job.
Kasprzyk began his job search in September. After reviewing job-search sites, he settled on MktgLadder. Kasprzyk received three job offers over a two-week period, but it was the position at Ventana, in Oro Valley, that was most attractive. By the third week of November he had a firm job offer from Ventana, a division of Roche, and a leading maker of machines that automate the process of preparing tissue samples to be tested for cancer and other infectious diseases.
Safety in numbers
Kasprzyk finds comfort in Roche’s size as an employer, but other factors, including Ventana’s niche market and Roche’s global reach, add to his belief that the company can weather the economic storm better than others.
As senior marketing manager, Kasprzyk’s primary focus is strategic, to define the market for his company, but he also must determine what needs are not being met in hospitals and healthcare facilities in order to help identify requirements for the next generation of products.
"Right now," he observed, "it is by and large very much a 'slide-and-microscope' type of operation in the pathology lab." The next generation of equipment, he said, will digitize many processes currently handled by these mechanical devices, enhancing long-term tracking in healthcare and making it more efficient.
The diagnostic testing market may also prove to be more insulated than other healthcare sectors from the changes in federal regulatory agencies and reimbursement policies that will come with the Obama administration and a new Federal Drug Administration.
Roche’s international presence also adds to Kasprzyk’s confidence.
"With Roche in the mix, there is going to be a much greater focus on international markets,” he said. “I believe only about 35 percent to 45 percent of (Ventana’s) business is outside of the U.S. currently… With Roche backing as well as the Roche network of subsidiary companies around the world, both on the pharma side and the diagnostic side, I think that is going to be a great focus in growing the business, short-term. I think there is a lot of the developed world that has great potential for growth on the diagnostic-equipment side."
Kasprzyk said he believes his search for size has served him well but can not work for everyone, especially those hoping to segue into the medical-device industry from a marketing position in another industry.
"My experience was that the larger companies have such a large pool of applicants that they draw people with very specific experience and education."
But the transition can be made. Kasprzyk suggests applicants should focus on mid-tier and start-up companies that can appreciate how such skills can transfer into the medical-device industry.