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IMRIS moving to Minneapolis

Announcement a blow to growing medical-device sector in Winnipeg

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IMRIS Inc. is packing up its Winnipeg operations and moving to Minneapolis.

The seven-year-old medical-device company has about 130 employees in Winnipeg, where it conducts all of its research and development, customer service, manufacturing and finance and administration work.

The groundbreaking Winnipeg company that sells multimillion-dollar magnetic resonance imaging-guided surgical devices to some of the most prestigious hospitals around the world already has a presence in Minneapolis. Its sales and marketing operations are centred there as well as extensive regulatory affairs operations.

Company CEO and founder David Graves was not available for comment Monday. But in his conference call to analysts late Friday, Graves said in order to capitalize on what he believes to be strong demand for the company's flagship product, the VISIUS Surgical Theatre, it needs to get itself better positioned.

"The pathway to achieve that growth is the ability to access a pool of talented, experienced personnel and access to partners and suppliers that will work with us to bring our products to reality," he said.

In Minneapolis, Graves said, they will find the talent they need and "a qualified ecosystem of suppliers and partners who understand the costs, quality and regulatory needs of the medical-device market that is right in the middle of our largest customer network."

The announcement that the company is moving is a blow to the growing medical-device sector in the city.

Industry sources said there were rumblings that the company was moving, but it has been notoriously insular in its association with the larger community.

Tracey Maconachie, executive director of the Life Sciences Industry Association of Manitoba, said, "We are disappointed to see them go but we understand the draw that the largest market can have. As we work with partners to try to grow the life sciences industry it is difficult to assist companies if they are not communicating with the community. We need to work with each other to understand where the gaps are so we can strive to improve them."

IMRIS's technology is based on work that was done at the National Research Council's Institute of Biodiagnostics, which is itself in the process of shutting down.

An IMRIS official said close to half of the 129 Winnipeg employees will be asked to move to Minneapolis. The company has about 170 employees in total with about 20 in Minneapolis and others in China.

In September IMRIS hired a new president and chief operating officer, filling a position that had been vacant for close to a year. That individual is based in Minneapolis and was not planning to move to Winnipeg.

Although this city has had a reputation in the past of being a difficult market in which to recruit senior management, some say that has been changing. At least two sizable privately owned Winnipeg companies have recently successfully recruited industry leaders from outside the province.

Jim Carr, CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba, said, "It's getting easier to recruit people into Winnipeg for a variety of reasons but you're not going to keep everybody. You don't wring your hands until they're rubbed sore when this happens. You are always going to lose some. When you take a piece of news like that you just go and out get some more."

Carr said the ability to develop industry clusters is key for a city like Winnipeg to be able to grow its economy.

Although Graves' comments seem to imply Winnipeg did not have the right "ecosystem" for IMRIS, Maconachie and Carr pointed to functional foods and nutraceuticals, industrial biotechnology, finance, aerospace and life sciences as sectors that are relatively deeply established here.

"We have done an awful lot with what we have and we are doing more over time," Carr said. "We are proud of becoming renowned internationally for much of what we do here."

A company spokesman said there was no specific development that precipitated the decision to move.

IMRIS makes MRI-guided units that can be moved in and out of operating theatres, giving surgeons real-time analysis of the results of surgery.

The company is in the late stages of developing three new versions of the technology -- one for robotic surgical operations, one for radiation therapy and another that would substitute a CT-scanner for the MR-scanner.

The company has had a spotty history of revenue performance.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 13, 2012 B5

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