By David Benda, Record Searchlight, August 2011
Left jobless after the ophthalmic manufacturer he worked for relocated from Redding, Wayne Cook decided to start his own business in the same field.
That was more than 20 years ago.
Today, VisionCare Devices Inc. has 20 employees at its Redwood Boulevard plant, where they manufacture eye surgical equipment for a global market.
And the firm is in a growth mode.
VisionCare Devices hopes to get Food and Drug Administration approval this year for a new product and the OK to start selling sterile products directly to eye surgeons.
“So we are hoping to hire several more people in the coming year after the FDA approval,” said Susan Cook, VisionCare co-owner and Wayne’s wife.
The Cooks’ company is one of many in the north state that operate under the radar, but they are examples of how innovation is alive and growing in the north state, said Economic Development Corp. of Shasta County President Mark Lascelles.
VisionCare Devices will be one of 10 Shasta County firms showcased Wednesday at an EDC event called “Game Changers: Developing Innovation Mindset in Shasta County.” Each of the firms will have a booth.
Hosted by the Shasta Builders Exchange on Innsbruck Drive, the event will run from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and is sold out.
In addition to the companies’ booths, there will be a room where three or four startups will pitch their ideas to interested investors. After lunch, experts will talk about ways to grow innovative companies, including the different sources
“Eighty percent of the job creation in the future will come within this community,” Lascelles said, adding that north state leaders must make a commitment to create their own growth and not wait for a Fortune 500 firm to come knocking. “We
need to get the community thinking in an innovative mindset.”
For the Cooks, starting VisionCare Devices was a way to help keep people employed.
Susan Cook said her husband had been working in Redding for Alcon, a giant in the ophthalmic industry, when the firm decided to consolidate operations in the late 1980s and shutter its north state operation.
“So my husband got together with some other like-minded people,” Cook said.
“There was already a good workforce trained that had been doing the type of processes we needed.”
VisionCare Devices makes vitreous cutters that are used to remove the vitreous from the back of the eye.
The company ships around 1,200 a year to original equipment manufacturers in Asia, Europe and in the United States.
“Not a lot of people make that particular item,” Cook said.
The Cooks’ company is ready to market a system console that will operate the cutters. But the equipment, called a vitrectomy system, still needs FDA approval.
Susan Cook said having the ability to sell sterile products will be a big deal.
“It will cost us $50,000 for all the certification and testing we have to do,” Cook said. “So it’s a big investment for us.”
An electrical engineer, Wayne Cook was in the aerospace industry for years, working on programs in Texas and Mississippi before the Cooks went to Iran when Wayne got a job with Bell Helicopter.
They were in the Middle East three years before leaving in 1977, two years before the shah left Iran in exile.
“We could see the handwriting on the wall,” Susan Cook said. “A friend was on the way to work, and he was assassinated, and that was the final straw.”
They owned and operated Wonderland Foods in Mountain Gate, supplying chicken to KFC, for a few years before Wayne went to work for Alcon, Susan said.
“It was too tense,” she said of the chicken business.
Firms to be showcased at Wednesday’s event:
VisionCare Devices Inc.
Ted Pella Inc.
Canteca Foods Inc.
AB Medical Technologies Inc.
D&G Glass Blowing