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Published: Wednesday, 10/3/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

‘Made in America’ is Rx for local physicians’ firm

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Francisco Sanchez, U.S. undersecetary of commerce for international trade, tests an embrace thermal plastic mask on Andrew Milanoski during Mr. Sanchez’s visit to Toledo.
Francisco Sanchez, U.S. undersecetary of commerce for international trade, tests an embrace thermal plastic mask on Andrew Milanoski during Mr. Sanchez’s visit to Toledo.
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James Huttner and Andrew Milligan know plenty of people say it’s cheaper and easier to manufacture things in China. They respectfully disagree.

The two doctors behind Bionix Development Corp. insist everything that goes into the medical devices and other products sold by their Toledo company be made in the Unites States.

“It’s a huge effort and it was a task finding everything, but it’s a question of putting in the effort to do it,” said Dr. Huttner, Bionix’s medical director and vice president for new product development. “I think too many people just knee-jerk to go to China or wherever for whatever reason. I don’t think they really have a good strategy as to why.”

Costs notwithstanding, Bionix officials say offshoring production provides too little quality control. As an example, they tell about a Chinese firm that tried to make a knockoff of a Nomex-coated oven-rack guard Bionix makes to protect against hand burns. Instead of Nomex, the knockoff used canvas — which is flammable.

“It’s really a who-knows-what-you’re-getting when you manufacture overseas,” Dr. Huttner said. “That’s one of the big reasons we don’t do any [production] overseas.”

What Bionix does overseas is sell.

The company has built itself into a major exporter of medical devices, shipping to more than 50 countries worldwide and growing at a significant rate. Dr. Milligan, the company’s president and chief executive, said Bionix employs about 70 people, nearly all of whom are in Toledo.

They’re the perfect example to underscore what exporting can do for small and medium-sized businesses, said Francisco J. Sanchez, the undersecretary for international trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Mr. Sanchez visited Bionix Tuesday to kick off a three-day “Made in America Manufacturing Tour,” which focuses on U.S. manufacturing and increasing exports.

“A big part of my job is also to get the word out to American businesses that if they have an exportable good or exportable service, and they’re not exporting, they do so at their peril,” he said.

Mr. Sanchez said American businesses — regardless of size — should look at markets outside the United States to grow their businesses.

“My message is don’t think that because you’re a small company you can’t play overseas,” Mr. Sanchez said. “If you have an exportable good, an exportable service, you can’t just rely on the domestic market. Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers live outside our borders.”

According to the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, exports from the Toledo metro area totaled $2.4 billion in 2011, up from $2 billion in 2010.

Mr. Sanchez said companies new to international sales typically do best starting with long-established U.S. trade partners such as Canada and Mexico.

Though there can be greater opportunity in developing places such as China, India, and Brazil, there’s also greater risk.

China specifically represents a good opportunity, he said, but still has many challenges, including intellectual property rights protection, special treatment for Chinese companies, and high tariffs.

Though diplomacy is the first defense, Mr. Sanchez said the agency and President Obama are not hesitant to use trade law and bring trade complaints against China through regulating bodies.

“In three and a half years, we’ve had more cases against China than the previous administration had in eight years,” he said. “So we’ll work with China through commercial diplomacy, but when that doesn’t work, the President will not be bashful to use every means possible to make sure American companies have a level playing field.”

Bionix started in 1984, when Dr. Huttner was a resident at the former Medical College of Ohio, now the University of Toledo Medical Center, and Dr. Milligan was a first-year faculty member there.

One of its first products was a simple ear-wax removal tool Dr. Huttner developed with fishing line from K-Mart and a small piece of aluminum tubing.

“It’s just to take wax out of kids’ ears. It’s a tremendous problem in pediatrics,” Dr. Huttner said. “You can’t make any diagnosis of the ear drum until you get all the wax out of the way.”

They started selling the disposable tools for 65 cents apiece. They’ve since added more variations of the tool, including one that features LED illumination, but the design remains an important seller.

Among their other products are a straw designed for stroke victims and a tool for cleaning feeding tubes. Dr. Milligan said that tool, which costs about $5, can eliminate the need to replace feeding tubes for patients in hospitals, something that can cost $1,200.

Bionix also manufactures positioning equipment that doctors use to keep patients still while administering radiation therapy to cancer patients.

“Every year’s been a record year, every month’s been a record month,” Dr. Huttner said. “We see nothing but optimism for the future and growth for the future. We are currently filling positions in the company. We’re still growing as a company.”

Bionix has outgrown its building on Enterprise Boulevard and is looking for a new space. But both doctors say they’re committed to staying in the Toledo area, largely because of their employees.

“We know their kids, we know their spouses — that’s just the way we tend to want to do our business,” Dr. Milligan said. “We’re committed to staying here.”

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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