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A Small but Growing Industry: Oregon's Medical Equipment and Supplies Manufacturing
by Martin Kraal
Published Oct-21-2013

From the dentists' chairs we all love sitting in to the stethoscopes used to hear our heart beats, medical equipment and supplies manufacturers provide the tools and equipment used by doctors, nurses, dentists, and other health care professionals. Oregon's medical equipment manufacturers make a variety of products. Some of these products include dental equipment and supplies, dentures, orthodontic goods and appliances, surgical appliances and supplies, prosthetics and orthotics, and laboratory apparatus and furniture.

Industry Overview
The medical equipment and supplies manufacturing industry comprises a small part of the statewide manufacturing industry. In 2012, the industry accounted for approximately 2 percent of total statewide manufacturing employment and less than 1 percent of total statewide employment. Though there are medical equipment manufacturers located throughout the state, most are in the Portland metro area, specifically Multnomah and Washington counties. Yet though Multnomah and Washington counties each have a larger number of establishments, Yamhill County has the largest share of employment, with almost one-third of the industry's total employment.

The industry also comprises a small percentage of the state's total exports. Based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Foreign Trade Division, medical equipment and supplies manufacturers in Oregon exported nearly $233 million worth of products in 2012. This accounted for slightly more than 1 percent of the state's total exports of $18.4 billion. However, medical equipment and supply exports have grown more rapidly than the state's total exports. From 2002 to 2012, exports from the medical equipment and supplies industry increased by almost 300 percent, while total exports increased by 82 percent.

Employment and Wages
Before the Great Recession, employment in medical equipment and supplies manufacturing was steadily increasing; annual average employment peaked at 3,841 in 2008. However, medical manufacturers were not immune from the recession as employment fell to 3,571 in 2010 (Graph 1). Yet the decline in employment for medical manufacturers wasn't as severe as the decline for the entire manufacturing sector. From 2008 to 2012, medical manufacturing employment fell by about 7 percent compared with a 16 percent decline for the manufacturing sector. Also, unlike the overall manufacturing sector in the state, employment in medical equipment manufacturing is above its 2001 level (Graph 2).

In 2012, there were 259 medical equipment manufacturers employing 3,671 workers. The average annual wage for these workers was $48,305, which was slightly above the statewide all-industry average of $44,273, but below the manufacturing average pay of $62,161. The average for the manufacturing sector is pulled up by high wages in computer and electronic product manufacturing.

However, wages within the medical equipment manufacturing industry vary greatly by occupation. Occupations commonly found in this industry are assemblers and fabricators, production workers, dental laboratory technicians, metal and plastic workers, medical appliance technicians, mechanical and industrial engineers, and general and operations managers. Statewide, median wages for these occupations vary from around $13 per hour for production worker's helpers upwards to $46 per hour for industrial engineers.

Graph 1
Employment in medical equipment and supplies manufacturing
Graph 2
Who Works in the Industry?
The medical equipment manufacturing workforce is slightly older and more likely to be male than the workforce for all industries in the state. About a quarter of the industry's workforce is 45 to 54 years old. Approximately 70 percent of the workers in the medical equipment and supplies manufacturing industry are in the 25 to 54 year age range, which is considered the "prime working age" range (Graph 3). Statewide, 66 percent of workers are age 25 to 54 years old. The industry also has a smaller percentage of workers age 24 and younger.

Medical equipment manufacturers have a significant percentage of workers who are age 55 and over. Approximately 23 percent of the industry's workforce is 55 or over, which is similar to the statewide percentage. This will create both opportunities and challenges for employers and potential employees. Businesses will need to develop succession plans and determine how they will transfer on-the-job knowledge. On the other hand, this means there will be potential opportunities for unemployed individuals looking for work as well as students and younger workers planning their careers.

Finally, medical equipment and supplies manufacturers employ a slightly larger number of males than the statewide average, 57 percent versus 51 percent, respectively. However, the medical equipment manufacturing workforce is more similar to the all-industry average than the manufacturing sector as a whole, in which almost 74 percent of the workforce is male.

Graph 3
Statewide employment by age
Industry Prognosis
Medical equipment and supply manufacturing employment has grown steadily over the past decade, except for a drop during the Great Recession. Since 2001, employment growth in the industry has outpaced both the manufacturing sector as a whole and total statewide employment. Coupled with a growing, and aging, population, it seems plausible that the demand for medical equipment will remain "healthy."