By: Tim Reaves, Independent Tribune
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — Kannapolis became an international destination Thursday as a delegation of political and business leaders from South and Central America and the Caribbean visited the North Carolina Research Campus as part of a fact-finding tour.
Organized by the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) and International Trade Administration (ITA), the tour brought dozens of delegates from 20 countries to NCRC’s David H. Murdock Core Laboratory Building to hear presentations about the campus, Kannapolis and the county from local leaders.
“They are on a tour of a number of sites in two or three days to just understand best practices that are going on in those places,” said Kannapolis City Manager Mike Legg. “The hope is that there’s two-way communication or collaborative efforts.”
Lilliana Reyes Castrejón, venture capital director at the National Entrepreneurship Institute in Mexico, said she was impressed by the Core Lab and the campus as a whole.
“I think it’s a great example that you can do great things if you have these partnerships in private and public areas,” she said. “It’s a wonderful experience to realize that it could be possible to develop this kind of university research center.”
“Sometimes you believe that you know everything,” she continued. “We had no idea that this is happening in North Carolina and South Carolina.”
The tour also provides a chance for investment, said Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce President Patrick Coughlin.
“Every great deal starts with a relationship,” he said. “And I think that’s what we’re doing today is starting that relationship with them so that they get a better understanding of what we have in terms of infrastructure … and how close we are to Charlotte.”
Kannapolis Mayor Darrell Hinnant said the city’s participation in the tour developed from the city council’s visit to Washington, D.C. last month.
Kannapolis leaders spoke with DOC representatives about a tour of the Southeast in which foreign delegates would exchange ideas with local communities.
Kannapolis made the list that included Atlanta and Charlotte because NCRC demonstrates applied research in a business-friendly atmosphere, said Thomas Guevara, EDA deputy assistant secretary for regional affairs.
“What we’re trying to do is provide our guests with exposure to a variety of investments in what we call ‘The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem,’” he said. “This is just one of those ways in which we can exemplify investments that are public-private partnership type investments that provide support for innovative businesses.”
The primary purpose, he said, is to foster dialogue with respect to supporting innovators, which could lead to investment.
“I’m thrilled about it, because in each of the communities they visited except for Kannapolis the [DOC] has invested money in each of those communities,” Hinnant said, including millions of dollars in North Carolina facilities.
“We’re hoping that we would be the beneficiaries of those same kinds of investments,” he added. “And when we talked to the people in commerce up there, they gave us the impression that’s how to get onto the floor mat to make sure that we have an opportunity to seek some of those investments.”
Walter Bastian, ITA deputy assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere, said North Carolina has been “particularly successful” at reinventing itself, and the tour was meant to show them how economic development is fostered at the municipal level, combining efforts by elected officials, universities and the private sector.
“I thought there’d be some good lessons in here,” he said, noting the tour also is meant to illuminate long-term challenges faced by municipalities and how to prepare for them.
“You folks are dealing with some cutting-edge technologies,” he said. “We’re looking at places that bring in these different interest groups and where they’re brought together well. And this a place that struck us as being appropriate.”
“I have seen that you work together,” said Luis Armando Bravo, founder and CEO of Probionics, a Mexico-based company that develops prosthesis and rehabilitation platforms.
Bravo said he has learned not only about another culture, but the importance of seeking common ground among disparate institutions.
“These kind of events are very important for all of us,” he said. “We have to get a relation with you, with your enterprises, with your schools, with your institutions, to develop more value in our products and services.”