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Medical Device Manufacturer Expanding Again in Boulder


A Boulder medical-products company is undergoing its second major expansion in three years.  KUNC’s Erin O’Toole talks with Boulder County Business Report publisher Chris Wood about the growth at Covidien.


O’Toole: Good morning, Chris.  So tell us about Covidien -- what exactly does the company do, and what sort of growth are they experiencing?

Wood:  Covidien is a medical-device manufacturer that operates two main divisions, both of them in the Gunbarrel area of Boulder. That’s the area in east Boulder along the Diagonal Highway where you have companies such as Celestial Seasonings, Spectra Logic and may others.

One of Covidien’s main divisions is Energy-based Devices, formerly Valleylab, which designs and manufactures energy-based instruments, such as surgical lasers. The other main division in Boulder focuses on respiratory and monitoring solutions.

Right now, Covidien is in the midst of a $6.7 million, 63,000-square-foot expansion that the company is calling its “Innovation Center”.  It’s also spending $2.9 million dollars on a 269-space parking garage. As you noted, Erin, it’s the company’s second major physical expansion in the past three years.

O’Toole: The name “Innovation Center” would seem to indicate that it will include a lot of research and development. Is there a specific purpose for this expansion?

Wood:  Well, the medical-device industry is extremely competitive, and because of that, Covidien has not disclosed exactly what type of surgical device might be on the drawing board and necessitating the expansion in Boulder. But Covidien is known to focus on devices that can speed surgeries and allow for less blood loss than older devices. One example is a device called the Cool-tip RF Ablation, which some have described as an electrical pencil that could, for example, remove a tumor on a liver.

O’Toole: So, will this expansion mean an increase in jobs at the company?

Wood:  It certainly will. Covidien already employs 1,700 workers in both Boulder divisions. It’s already the sixth-largest employer in the Boulder Valley. The Innovation Center is expected to open in December and will mean an additional 120 workers.

And these won’t be just run-of-the-mill jobs. These positions require highly skilled workers, and Bryan Hansen, president of Covidien’s Boulder campus, told us that the new facility is designed to attract top-notch researchers to the company. It’s really intended to foster collaboration and to stimulate creative thinking.

An example that Covidien provided is that informal seating arrangements will help people collaborate, laboratory space will allow them to test their ideas, and manufacturing areas can be used to make a new device.

O’Toole: You mentioned earlier that the medical-device sector is a very competitive industry. How has Covidien performed in the wake of the competition?

Wood: It seems to be doing pretty well, Erin.  Covidien itself is a huge company, based in Ireland, with 41,000 employees in 65 countries and revenues of $10.4 billion dollars.

Covidien said last week that its Energy-based Devices unit reported a double-digit sales gain in its second fiscal quarter. That increase was driven mainly by growth in products aimed at sealing vessels. Energy-based Devices itself is expected to generate $1.2 billion in sales in 2011, up from a billion last year.

So, overall, Covidien appears to be growing. I guess it’s fortunate that a significant part of that growth is in Boulder.

Chris Wood is the publisher of the Boulder County Business Report.