Does Minnesota rely too much on the medical device industry?

I read the headline, “From west of the Mississippi, a tinge of envy over Wisconsin’s business climate,” and couldn’t resist the bait.

Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, gave an ‘attaboy to his Legislature for supporting tax credits for high-tech companies that helped snag a Minnesota biotech firm. At that same time he tweaked Minnesota’s medical device business, writing:

Some Minnesota techies say…the state has banked too much on one industry, and they point to Wisconsin as a state that is encouraging start-up companies that make medical devices, pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, software, power electronics and much more.

We know there’s a weird competitive vibe between the states. And Wisconsin recently. But is Minnesota leaning too heavily on the medical device business?

I’d say no.

Medical devices accounted for about 1 percent of the state’s workforce in 2007, according to the state Labor Department, which noted in a recent report:

Medical device employment in Minnesota continued to grow following the 2001 recession, and the pace of growth has been better than overall statewide employment and U.S. total and industry employment in every year through 2006…

..Employment projections suggest that the medical equipment and supplies manufacturing industry will grow 14 percent from 2006 to 2016, adding more than 2,100 new jobs to the state economy.

I don’t see a problem with that.

Maybe the real lesson is that Minnesota’s medical device industry wasn’t spawned by “angel” tax credits or other government-based attempts to encourage start-ups.

It was built by tinkers and inventors tied to the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic, people who didn’t necessarily have perfect lab space or tremendous business savvy but who built a culture of inquiry and experimentation and created products that met vital needs and found markets.

It wasn’t the tax structure that brought them here or kept them here, I don’t think. If you think my history’s wrong on this, please post below.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin might be interested in examining our not-so-great history of subsidizing high tech innovation.

The future of one subsidized biotech project looked incredibly bright six years ago. But it didn’t quite work as planned.

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