Focus: Cluster growth

Healthy Heartbeat

May. 4, 2019

The medical device industry has grown from a marginal sector into the country's biggest exporter in just 20 years and shows no signs of slowing down.

Astounding but not surprising. Since the mid-90s, through extensive promotional events, business easing policies, and education programs, the country has been positioning itself to become a leader in the medical device sector. In 2000, there were just eight companies in the local medtech sector, while today there are nearly 100. Within life sciences, Costa Rica went from producing Class I to Class III medical devices, which today include aesthetics, cardiovascular, dental, endoscopy, medication delivery systems, neuro-endovascular, neuro-modulation, optics and orthopedics/sport medicine/ENT, and surgical/diagnostics components, among many other sub-products. These devices serve medical facilities in every continent today, with the US, China, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Japan leading the list of biggest importers of Costa Rican medical supplies.

Today, the country is well established as a provider of high-end medical devices, known for its traceability, validation, process stability, just-in-time deliveries, logistical efficiency, cost-reduction programs, quick responses, and providing both quality and innovation.

If initially the sector depended mostly on foreign companies, today homegrown corporations also give a large contribution to this burgeoning sector. Establishment Labs is a prime example of this, as the company now employs over 426 workers in the country and 86 around the world, producing female-centered medical devices, and has been the first Costa Rican company to list on the Nasdaq stock exchange. However, what shows true promise in this and other companies in Costa Rica is their considerable investment in R&D for new state-of-the-art products. Establishment Labs alone employs 35 people in its R&D unit, which develops new technology for the fields of plastic and reconstructive surgery, including implantable devices, 3D technology, and biosensor microchips.

This framework of continued investment and growth is set to continue as more and more industry players pledge to invest in the country in the coming year. Just in December, Edwards Lifesciences, a California-based medical device company that has been operating in Costa Rica since 2016 and now employs 480 people, stated it would open another 370 positions in the run up to 2020 to support its expansion in the country. The company specializes in heart valves and develops the processes of sewing, pre-assembly, assembly, and export in Costa Rica.

Edwards is just the latest in a row of new expansions for industry companies fueling fast-growing employment. In late November, British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline inaugurated the fourth stage of its Tres Ríos facility, opening 100 new working positions. A couple of weeks earlier, technology company Tech Data announced it would be opening a client and service management lifecycle center in Escazú, and, in early November, American company Stryker announced the opening of a new center in Costa Rica to serve as a financial hub for the region and employ 90 people, almost simultaneously as healthcare customer care provider Sykes announced it would hire 600 new people.
Earlier, in October, international company Precision Concepts, which has operated in Costa Rica since 1991, announced a new USD5-million investment to expand its operations in the country and is preparing a new round of hiring for technicians in the fields of modeling, engineering, and assembly. Earlier, in April, Advant Medical had already announced the opening of a new production facility, in Heredia, for which it would open 30 new working positions for highly trained professionals.
These are just some of the expansion projects in the local medtech sector in 2018, which today employs nearly 13,000 people but is set to significantly expand in the coming years. 64% of the companies in the industry has reported a growth in the workforce.

These outstanding and fast-growing figures were, in many ways, possible due to Costa Rica's low labor costs, educated and trainable workforce, favorable fiscal regime, and political stability. However, much of the credit goes to the Costa Rica Investment Promotion Agency (CINDE), a private company that has worked tirelessly to call on industry players to come to Costa Rica and has promoted the country's sector far and wide. The work of the agency was so relevant the government has declared it of “national interest" and has started to support it with state funds. As things stand, Costa Rica has all that it takes to continue to establish itself as a regional and global hub for the medical device sector, promising great benefits for the country as a whole.