Proposed budget cuts to NC Biotech Center could hurt Charlotte

March 22, 2013

By: Jennifer Thomas, The Charlotte Business Journal

Mar 22, 2013, 2:56pm EDT

Proposed budget cuts to NC Biotech Center could hurt Charlotte

The N.C. Biotechnology Center in the Triad is facing deep cuts to its funding in Gov. Pat McCrory's proposed state budget. 

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The N.C. Biotechnology Center in the Triad is facing deep cuts to its funding in Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed state budget.

Slashing $10 million from the N.C. Biotechnology Center’s annual appropriation could hurt efforts to grow the biotech and life-sciences industry in the Charlotte region.

Under Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget, the biotech center would receive $7.2 million in the upcoming fiscal year, down from $17.2 million in the 2012-13 fiscal year, which ends June 30. The proposal calls for funds previously allocated to the biotech center to be used to continue daily operations.

The state appropriation represents the “lion’s share” of the biotech center’s budget, says Robin Deacle, vice president of corporate communications.

That could force the biotechnology center to scale back its operations and change how it supports the industry in the state, she notes. The center is headquartered in Research Triangle Park and has regional offices in five locations, including Charlotte.

Most of that money is used to issue grants and loans to companies just getting their start, Deacle says. It also helps provide education and training in a broad range of areas with a goal of growing biotech’s presence.

“These endeavors are designed to develop new medicines, grow safer foods, add jobs and improve the environment. Most, if not all, would have to be put on hold or canceled,” says Norris Tolson, president and chief executive, in a statement.

That could put North Carolina behind in its efforts to become a bigger player in the biotech industry, he adds.

Companies developing new technologies may struggle to find other funding options, instead turning to other states where funding and incentives for life-sciences companies are more accessible, Tolson says.

The ripple effect would likely be felt in the Charlotte region where the life-sciences sector is gaining momentum. Those efforts are being driven, in part, by the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis and a strong research base that include Carolinas HealthCare System and university-led research such as that conducted at UNC Charlotte.

“We definitely have the fundamentals — the infrastructure – to support that type of industry in our community,” says Clyde Higgs, vice president of business development for Castle & Cooke North Carolina, which is developing the research campus.

That 350-acre-biotech hub focuses on health, nutrition and agriculture.

The biotech center plays a critical role in connecting people and organizations within the sector, he adds. It also helps drive programmatic initiatives and provides financial support in the form of grants and loans to companies.

“They fill the gaps of a growing sector,” Higgs says, noting the center is a regular fixture in economic-development circles.

The biotech sector has a $59 billion annual economic impact on the state, with 237,000 jobs in the biotechnology and life sciences sector.

“We hope that the members of the General Assembly will continue to work with us, as they have for the past 29 years, and support the Center’s efforts to grow and expand the high paying jobs in the biotechnology and life sciences sector all across North Carolina,” Tolson says.

Jennifer Thomas covers retail, health care and education for the Charlotte Business Journal.



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