If everything goes according to plan, a new partnership announced between Portage College and Alaxo Airway Stents will bring over a hundred jobs to the Lakeland region in the years to come.
Announced Monday, the partnership will see a call centre for the company set up at Portage College’s St. Paul Campus as well as the development of a number of training courses for the company and instructional videos for their patients.
Alaxo Airway Stents is a medical device company that makes reusable airway stents to treat sleep apnea and snoring, as well as for fitness optimization. The stents work by opening up the airways and increasing the airflow when the user is breathing.
According to Alaxo president Jack Huber, the devices are prescribed by a doctor but installed by the patient.
“So the call centre out of the college will really be in-servicing those patients and telling them what to expect, how to insert the stents in your nasal passage. Our stents are likened to installing contact lenses. It takes time to get used to wearing them. Probably a two-week period of adjustment,” said Huber, noting that while the stents are already sold with detailed instructions, having access to a live person who is trained on their application is something many patients will benefit from.
“There’s really nothing like having that visual component, so part of what we want to do with that call centre is offer that virtual face-to-face experience that people want,” said Huber.
Developing the course and training materials is something Portage College president Nancy Broadbent is excited about because it allows them to increase their micro-credential offerings.
Micro-credentials are specific skills or training courses that tend to be industry-specific or needed for particular jobs, but aren’t necessarily enough to fulfill diploma requirements.
“Portage College has a fairly broad suite of safety certificates that are recognized by external bodies, so there are all kinds of different safety tickets. And there are some tickets as well within our community social work program that the industry of Social Work recognizes,” said Broadbent, noting some of the courses currently offered through their Continuing Education program are things which people need to periodically renew.
“The other really neat opportunity around micro-credentials is that we can take bits and pieces of a program that we might have and as a student takes all the micro-credentials, then we look to see how does that help them get advanced standing in a program,” said Broadbent.
She said the college sees the sleep health courses for Alaxo as something which could become part of their offerings for the Licensed Practical Nursing and Paramedic programs already offered in St. Paul.
“It could either be an elective that they take while they’re with us or it could be a post-graduate type of training,” said Broadbent.
Asked what the anticipated timeline is for getting the call centre set up and the courses developed, Huber said they are hoping to have the call centre up and running within the next 60 days.
Broadbent said they hope to have the training courses ready in time for the 2021/2022 academic year.
Why St. Paul?
The journey from looking for a space to choosing St. Paul has had a number of twists to it according to Huber, but the primary way the town got on their radar was because of a personal connection to the community.
St. Paul resident Robb Foote, formerly a manager at Lakeland Primary Care Network is now the Vice-President of Compliance for Alaxo. According to Huber, Foote introduced the company to Portage College and also helped them to connect with local dentist Dr. Ken Miller.
“The way the world works today, you don’t have to be headquartered in a major city,” said Huber.
He said when they discussed it all, there were a lot of good reasons to come to St. Paul and they are now excited to “work with the community and be an active part of the community in St. Paul.”
“For us to be able to bring a technology to North America like this and kind of have it focused driven out of Alberta and specifically rural Alberta is a big deal for us. The province is struggling right now, we’re all tied to the oil and gas industry, but being able to bring something that’s literally not only recognized in North America but around the world and have it headquartered in Alberta and rural Alberta, we hope that that sets a trend for other businesses to come to Alberta,” said Huber.
Broadbent gave the credit for the introduction to the St. Paul and District Chamber of Commerce. She said they happened to be in the right place at the right time when Alaxo was making their presentation at a Chamber meeting.
“I think the important thing is that we got some common interests. So we have space in the facility and throughout our region, we are interested in using those assets that we have like facilities to try to help increase connections in the community,” said Broadbent, noting that the college is always interested in pursuing partnerships with industry and integrating those opportunities for their students whether it means on the job training with companies or having students learn by doing the research a company needs.
Sports partnership also a draw
For both Alaxo and Portage, the college’s sports programs are another draw to the partnership. According to Huber, the company already has partners in the CFL and NFL.
“Long term, our goal is to work with the athletics program [at Portage] and see if we can do some testing with their athletes. There’s a lot of different directions we can go with the college,” said Huber.
Broadbent said the college’s hockey and soccer teams are quite interested in the partnership and how it might help students.
“We’ve also talked about the students then being able to share their experience with using the stents and how that’s improved their athletic performance. We’re looking at an opportunity to cross-promote our athletics program and their health products,” said Broadbent.