Jeff Riggs

Athens attracts key companies in the medical device industry

Athens Daily Review

By Jeff Riggs Associate Editor Athens Daily Review

With the growth of Athens, and the proclamation of Athens becoming a certified senior community, health issues tend to grow.

With that in mind, at least two companies have been formed or expanded over the years to accommodate the need for medical device demands.

FutureMatrix Inter­ventional, Inc. and Argon Medical Devices, Inc. are among them.

FutureMatrix General Manager David Nichols said his company is expected to expand due to the increased demand for his products.

The journey and growth of FutureMatrix has carried it to various locations around Athens over its 23-year history.

“We began in April of 1993. There was funding from various sources and the City of Athens,” Nichols said. “The first location was where Tilo's restaurant is now.”

FMxl moved to a facility on South Highway 19 for three years and in 1996 moved to its current location at 1605 Enterprise Drive.

“We have seen some exceptional growth over the years. What started as a small company with about 10-15 employees has grown to over 350 today."

Recent facility expansions were made possible by the acquisition of the former Biotech equipment and facility which has given FMxl approximately 58,000 square feet of inhabitable space.

Nichols said that on March 9, James Passmore, founder of the company, officially retired and the company was purchased by longtime board member, John Feltman.

John Feltman is the CEO of the new FutureMatrix parent company, Brookhaven Medical located in Atlanta, Georgia.

Jim Passmore still resides in Athens.

The main scope of their business is built around the disposable medical device industry.

FutureMatrix has developed and currently manufactures several innovative products that are used in vascular and urological procedures. 

“We're going to expand on our strengths,” Nichols said. “There's a lot of opportunities through new product development and emerging markets that will factor into the expansion of our marketplace. There's huge opportunities to expand domestically and worldwide. We also do a lot of work with clinicians and thought leaders in our field to develop new products that will meet the growing demands of our healthcare providers. We already have it on the books to add a new 20,000 sq. ft. facility this year on our 1605 campus.  We are committed to the expansion of our business and the investment in new equipment and people.”

According to public records, the industrial property has an estimated value of $1.33 million, which is slightly above average for industrial properties in the area.

When the building was last assessed in 2012, the assessment value was $1,321,290.

“We are at 350-plus employees now. Based on our schedule for new product launches and growth of existing product lines we expect our head count to push closer to the 400 person level by the end of this year. We are currently hiring employees for a second shift in some of the production areas,” he said. “We are in Athens, in part because of the access to a labor pool that is good for the type of manufacturing that we do.  Our customers can easily access our facility due to the close proximity to the Dallas and Tyler airports.  The Henderson County area is a great place to live and raise a family which helps in the recruitment of professional talent that is critical to our desire for growth and investment in new medical device technology development. The City and the AEDC has been a great partner, and we are looking forward to what the future has in store for our company.”

 Nichols said the company takes applications on a daily basis. About 90 percent of the hiring will be hourly production workers with technical and administrative positions periodically needed to support their expected growth.

Also accommodating the need for medical devices in the Athens area is Argon Medical Devices, Inc., located at 1445 Flat Creek Road, Athens, which, according to its website, manufactures medical products and devices for interventional radiology, vascular surgery, interventional cardiology, critical care and oncology procedures.

It offers cardiology products, such as jawz endomyocardial biopsy forceps, percutaneous introducer sheaths, drapes and equipment covers, arterial needles, guide wires, vessel dilators, manifolds, syringes, fluid management tubing and accessories, pressure transducers, pressure transducer accessories, arterial catheter kits and trays, thermodilution and pulmonary artery catheters and temporary pacing electrode trays.

Vice President of Operations for the company's American operations Bill Morgan, and who has been employed by the company since 2004, said the Athens facility employs about 360 people.

They are currently hiring for entry-level positions primarily. These include light manufacturing, assembly work.

“At the Athens facility, there is lots of emphasis on internal promotions,” he said.

He views the future of the Athens facility as growth oriented.

“I see a continuation of what we are doing,” he said. “In 2013, we made a major acquisition of a business named Angiotech. It included plants in Denmark and in Florida. These were closed and moved here. That meant significant growth for the Athens plant, and included in that is a lot of hiring. That integration is complete, and there has been a lot of organic growth locally. Our goal is to grow business.”

Morgan said there are a lot of reasons for locating in Athens. One is its access to the labor force and low overhead costs.

“The community supports its businesses,” he said. “As far as the city's EDC, I can't say enough good about them. Athens is fortunate to have leaders in the community who understand businesses, and what their needs are. It's that kind of community support that adds to longevity of operations. That's one of the big reasons we are here. It's the community support, that's what makes Athens unique.”

Argon was founded in 1972 in Garland, and focused on stainless steel guidewires.

Over the next decade, additional products were added to Argon’s portfolio. 

In 1981, it was relocated to Athens, and sold to Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The company grew through the addition of a custom packing operation.

Henley International bought the company in 1991, and in November 2003, RoundTable Health­care Partners, a premier private equity firm located in Lake Forest, Illinois, bought Argon.

At this time Argon had 350 employees.

RoundTable’s exclusive focus is medical devices and specialty pharmaceutical businesses.

In October of 2010, Argon purchased the Critical Care and Extended Dwell Catheter product portfolios from Becton Dickinson, becoming a global operation with sales offices in eight countries in Europe, Japan and China and manufacturing plants in Singapore and Athens, increasing its headcount to over 700 employees.

In 2010 and 2011, Argon entered into exclusive licensing agreements with Rex Medical to add the Option Vena Cava Filter, Cleaner Rotational Thrombectomy System and UltraStream Dialysis Catheters to its product line.

In April of 2013, Argon acquired the Interventional business from Angiotech Pharmaceuticals, augmenting Argon’s business strategy to grow the company into a leading player in the interventional medicine space worldwide.

This significantly expanded Argon’s global sales organizations, increasing its reach and providing the opportunity for rapid growth.

With the Angiotech Interventional acquisition, Argon added additional offices in Europe, and manufacturing plants in Wheeling, Illinois and Rochester, NY.

In December 2015, Argon acquired the three products it had previously licensed from Rex Medical.

Argon Medical Devices, Inc. now wholly owns The OptionELITE Retrievable Vena Cava Filter, the Cleaner Rotational Thrombectomy System, and the UltraStream Chronic Dialysis Catheter.

Today, according to the website, Argon employs about 1,200 employees worldwide, and is committed to continuing its growth as a world-class medical device business.