Local News

N.C. Communities Banking On Biotech

Posted January 16, 2004

— Many communities looking for an economic jumpstart are looking at something called biotech.

Biotechnology and related fields could generate billions in sales and give jobs to 125,000 people in North Carolina.

Biotech is an economic buzzword.

"They've heard this catch phrase, biotech, [and] they think this is what they can latch onto," North Carolina State University economist Mike Walden said.

Counties in the northern part of the state are developing an industrial park with these jobs in mind. Greenville already has a small hub and Johnston County is hoping to add biotech to its pharmaceutical base.

"I think it's agreed upon that biotech will expand. There is some disagreement as to how fast and how many jobs will be created," Walden said.

The economics professor said biotech is attractive for communities where tobacco and textiles are disappearing from the economic landscape.

"It's taking ag sciences and blending them with technology," Walden said.

Some biotech byproducts in the works include altering pig organs to be used in humans and studying pine trees to make them more drought resistant and more sturdy to hold up in hurricane-force winds.

While biotech's end result offers great promise, Walden said communities looking for new life and new jobs need to be careful.

"I don't think any community can put all of its eggs in one basket and think biotech is going to be its savior. I think it's extremely competitive," he said.

Johnston County has already felt the competition. On more than one occasion, a rival pharmaceutical company in another state has purchased billboard ads for jobs near the county's pharmaceutical base.

"Of course, what you need is a diverse economy," said Linwood Parker of Johnston County Economic Development.

Parker is working on Johnston County's project, which grew out of a need to secure its pharmaceutical base.

"The county that does the best job of preparing its work force and making itself attractive will be the ones who will gain in this economy," Parker said.

In an effort to cash in on the biotech buzz, Johnston County, the region to the north and Greenville included training as part of the plan.

Walden expects the field of industrial manufacturing to also grow. He encourages communities in North Carolina to market themselves as retirement destinations as a way to diversify the local economy.

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