Wednesday, October 12, 2005

North Carolina's Biotech Money--$25m a Year Forever?

How can Virginia compete with states such as North Carolina when, in addition to the significant public contribution to fund the life sciences, there are also private sector billionaires who are committed to building wetlabs and fund research? In addition to David Murdock's money, the state is on the hook for about $25 million a year... for perpetuity. Here is the link to an article on MSNBC:

That is also the theme of a new article in the Triad Business Journal. Here is a link:

The opening section of the article identifies the remarkable situation in North Carolina:

While Research Triangle Park dominates the biotech scene in North Carolina, the state is eager to build other life science clusters to replace the disappearing manufacturing base. With Winston-Salem's Piedmont Triad Research Park bankrolled primarily by the private Wake Forest University, the state's public universities plan to spend $25 million helping to launch Kannapolis' N.C. Research Campus, and $16 million for operations each year.

Other states are boosting biotech as well beyond their best-known location. While the big tax money in the industry is the billions granted through federal government for research every year, states support the industry by funding infrastructure initiatives in the hope of generating high-paying jobs.

For example, North Carolina's 2005-2006 budget includes $4.9 million for biotechnology initiatives at N.C. Central and N.C. State universities, and $3 million in support of statewide biotech training initiatives, among other projects.
What about Virginia? Here is the next section:

North of the border in Virginia, its biotech capital is also the state capital of Richmond, location of the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park. The park opened for business in 1995, the product of a partnership between Virginia Commonwealth University, the city of Richmond, and the state. Park President and CEO Robert Skunda said Virginia has indeed been trying to grow additional biotech clusters in other parts of the state, including Blacksburg to the west, Charlottesville near the center, and Prince William County to the north.

"Most of the money has gone to the universities (in those areas) to invest in research buildings, that they hope will eventually translate into economic activity in research parks" established by the universities, Skunda said. That amount is substantial, he added, probably totaling up to $100 million over the past decade.

However, direct state funding to help establish research parks around those outlying universities has been "right around zero," Skunda said. As in many other states, he said, the administration of Gov. Mark Warner has been scrambling to overcome budget deficits, making extra funds for park development hard to come by.

"It's going to be very difficult to compete looking at places like Kannapolis," where a private individual will pick up a large part of the startup tab, Skunda said. "It's just phenomenal to have somebody come forward with that kind of commitment. The challenge there will be building the accompanying base of research."
Yikes! Bob Skunda is right about the state's commitment. Rumors continue to fly about Governor Warner's outgoing budget. Will he support any of his own Biotechnology Commission recommendations? Even one?

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