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Originally Published in El Financiero Costa Rica April 16, 2021
Costa Rica has developed an ecosystem able to provide 100% of the supply chain for the fabrication of original products and is now opening possibilities for a greater diversification.
In January and February of 2021, the economic results of companies of precision and medical equipment in Costa Rica, appear immune to the negative effects brought upon by the pandemic. The interannual variation of exports in this sector left a 42% increase in January and a 23% increase in February compared to these same months in 2020, with medical prosthetics and specific equipment such as needles and catheters at the forefront of exports.
Overall, PROCOMER (The Promoter of Exterior Commerce) registered an additional value of $102 million in January and $138 million in February for exports of the above-mentioned equipment, compared to the same months of 2020.
However, at the beginning of the pandemic, the sector suffered the consequences of changes in consumer patterns derived from the hygiene measures this juncture demands in businesses of a different core.
Pedro Beirute Prada, PROCOMER’s CEO, explained that during 2020, exports of medical devices increased in an 8% ( +$300 million), particularly those used for non-elective procedures (emergency use or requiring urgent attention), as well as accessories for medical devices and infusion and transfusion of serum.
“Other products coming from this sector, such as contact lenses, experienced a contraction in their exports due to the fact these are elective procedures, which dropped during the pandemic or where entirely suspended, implying a drop in international demand”, said Beirute.
Clusters have enabled companies from the Life Sciences sector and from the medical devices sector, to recover the growth rhythms of two digits since October 2020, due to the fact that in many cases, the country was able to cover entirely the supply chain of these productive processes. Therefore, the companies have sorted out their logistic challenges related to the closing of borders. They adjusted their processes and responded to the increase in specific demand, and they even generated new opportunities.
The ability to demonstrate flexibility and resilience to the world, allows us to think in an even wider diversification of the segment, leading exports in Costa Rica from 2018.
The Investment Promotion Agency of Costa Rica (CINDE) registers 88 active companies in the Life Science cluster, divided in three sub sectors: Biotechnology, Pharma and MedTech.
Pilar Madrigal, Director of Investment Climate at CINDE, emphasized how Costa Rica is a well renowned strategic and resilient destiny where products related to feminine health are exported, respiratory, dental devices, surgery, radiology, cardiovascular, orthopedics, and neuro-endovascular, between others.
“There is a robust ecosystem of companies manufacturing original medical devices, as well as an extensive supply medical base that are enabling an efficient production chain”, Madrigal remarked.
In each subsector, companies respond to three different core businesses: they may be original manufacturers, contractors, suppliers/providers. At first, the behavior on demand was lineal (it began only with manufacturers), today this is a much deeper tissue. Some manufacturers are also providers for other companies of the sector and contractors may supply between them, encompassing different levels of sophistication.
Beirute commented, the medical devices activity in Costa Rica began with processes focused on component assembly and as new companies arrived to the country they sophisticated their products as well as their processes.
ITEK dedicates its services to shelter operations of products and third-party products. ITEK’s clients are foreign providers of companies established in the Costa Rican medical device advanced sector as well as small manufacturers OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer)
An independent consultant for foreign investment, Lucía Gross Martínez, explained how the industry requires specialized processes in plastic, silicon, metals, and other specifics such as sterilization or quality tests. The strength of this cluster gives Costa Rica the ability to cover the needs.
“In the medical device sector, companies with operations in Costa Rica have evolved in their assembly processes and in manufacture, shared services, distribution, commercialization, engineering and new production lines. There is manufacturing of devices practically covering the whole human body to act in response to the different diseases, diagnosis, therapy, recovery, between others”, pointed out Gross.
Lucía Gross participated in an informative workshop held in the Coyol Free Zone, where 31 companies from the medical device sector gathered and where 7 belong to the top 30 in the world. Carlos Wong, CEO of this industrial park, declared each year 1500 to 2000 new job posts are created in his installations, corresponding to an 80% of operative human capital.
Establishment Labs, a Costa Rican company operates in this industrial park and supplies its global operations of mammary implants technology and women’s health. It is also a host for Abbott, which operates in the manufacturing category of original cardiovascular and vascular equipment, or Resonetics, in the division of providers of manufacturing for example.
Another case is Zona Franca la Lima in the province of Cartago, which opened operations in March 2019, and it holds a clear aim of becoming part of the cluster.
Carolina Umaña, COO of Zona Franca La Lima, comments that 9 out of 10 jobs in this cluster are possible thanks to the ability to respond to the increasing demand of highly qualified human resources and the possibility to offer a modern industrial park with an infrastructure of the highest quality standards for multinational companies.
The social and economic impact: The medical device sector went from a job creation of 1500 and $288 million in the year 2000 to more than 38000 jobs created in 2020 and exports of $3700 million.
In this same Industrial Park, one may find companies such as Edward Lifesciences, Heraeus Medical Components and ITEK a Costa Rican company of shelter operations, manufacturing and third-party operations.
Bernal Rodríguez, ITEK’s CEO commented that his company was born as a concept at the beginning of 2016 and began their operations in 2017. Its main objective was to prove that a national company was able to reach the levels of performance and quality these industries require.
“ITEK was conceived and structured from its conception, to reach those standards. It hasn’t been easy, and it has required a lot of work and effort, but fortunately it has become a very successful operation. Clients are satisfied, and referrals to new customers have allowed us to handle the effects of the pandemic without any negative impacts”, Rodríguez said.
Additionally, the operations of companies established in the country for many years have acquired higher levels of complexity: they include one or two other categories surpassing manufacturing and, in some cases, they hold key departments of aggregated value in the country, like engineering, design or business Intel.
Costa Rica’s Foreign Commerce Minister, Andrés Valenciano Yamuni, declared the country must continue to attract these kinds of investments, to maximize the dynamism and the economic and social opportunities this sector is offering.
“Our strategy is based on continuous and consistent coordination with several stakeholders such as INA (National Learning Institute) with whom companies work to procure attention to their needs of skills and training. The latter is leading to a convergence of technologies that evidence opportunities of clear synergy between IT and Life Science companies that we can capitalize on. Digital medicine, telemedicine, and data analytics of patients, as well as interconnected devices are between others, examples of this universe we must explore, Valenciano added.
For Mr. Beirute, Costa Rica’s good performance in new production lines of the medical sector that are increasingly sophisticated, allows for the incorporation of more national companies in the value chains of this sector.
“In the COVID-19 context, Costa Rica has proved to be a country that holds a commercial platform to operate, and this aspect has become an incentive for the recent attraction of foreign investment, most of which is related to life sciences”, he emphasized.
In the case of national companies, innovation and productive linkages opportunities are opening. Bernal Rodríguez from ITEK, assures his actual niche was identified 5 years prior.
“The perspectives on growth are very interesting; the geopolitical and economic scenery propels nearshoring (process transfers to close countries to capitalize on competitive advantages in cost, schedule, proximity, and other variables). We were well positioned for this phenomenon before it was even named, so we believe we are able to work given this strategic advantage and continue to grow in an accelerated manner”, said Rodríguez.
Cinde forecasts a promising outlook which also relies on the ability of the country to be more competitive in educating enough human talent to satisfy demand for jobs.
The Life Science sector may generate even 20,000 new jobs in the next five years, reaching a level of employment of 58,000 people in the year 2025. This will be possible if Costa Rica is able to improve their conditions for competitiveness.