By Brian Brus
Courtesy of The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma City prosthetics innovator will be closing its operations and moving to Seattle soon, officials confirmed.
Orthocare Innovations formally launched at Presbyterian Health Research Park five years ago when it purchased Martin Bionics, which was at the time a research and development unit of Scott Sabolich Prosthetics. Before the acquisition, Orthocare was based primarily in Seattle. Chief Executive Officer Doug McCormack was a Sabolich patient.
After the deal, the company received a $1.6 million grant from the now-defunct state Economic Development Generating Excellence, or EDGE, fund. The Oklahoma City Redevelopment Authority also helped lay the groundwork for tax increment financing to help Orthocare grow from about 15 employees to more than 100. The latter didn’t happen, however; the shutdown will cause the layoff of eight employees.
JoeVan Bullard, formerly of Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Development Authority, spoke of Orthocare’s history on behalf of the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City. He said the tax increment financing deal at Orthocare’s launch provided a relatively small benefit in the form of office space at the research park. It was described as a mobile incubator because the space could shift from site to site depending on the company. The authority still owns that space; Bullard said OU is likely to buy it back soon.
Nearly any business carries the risk of relocation or failure, Bullard said. The best that public officials can do is thoroughly research each for its potential and protect taxpayer-supported incentives with confirmable benchmarks, as has been the case with the state’s Quality Jobs Program. In tech research industries, however, initial capital outlays are more problematic than hiring personnel.
“We’re not in the business of evaluating companies ourselves; that’s why we need organizations like i2E,” Bullard said Monday, referring to the nonprofit, business support agency. “Is there an absolute guarantee that every company you support with rent will make a go of it? I don’t think there’s any way you can definitively say yes.”
McCormack has said that Orthocare was approached by a leading company in the orthotics and prosthetics industry. Details of the new operations will be revealed next year after Orthocare moves to Washington.
Scott Meacham at i2E, which has offices at the research park near Orthocare, said the company had been quiet for several months. He agreed with Bullard that government-backed incentives have reasonable safeguards.
Paul Risser, who headed the EDGE board before the state Legislature canceled its funding last year, said Orthocare has been the only funded company to leave the state.
“The city and the state stepped up with some good incentives, and they had a really nice business plan,” Meacham said. “But I just don’t think they ever really were 100 percent committed to the Oklahoma City market. They kept their Seattle connections and they grew there instead of growing in Oklahoma City.
“I think probably at the time, they were committed to Oklahoma,” Meacham said. “But they’re a profit company and someone else came along. I guess we won the Thunder and Seattle won Orthocare. I’d take the Thunder over Orthocare any day.”