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North Carolina is a leader in life sciences - here's why

Posted March 10, 2021 5:00 a.m. EST

This article was written by our sponsor, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

Life-changing medicines. Household products. 66,000 jobs.

How did life sciences become such a giant in the North Carolina economy?

When biotech's first product, insulin, was produced, state leaders took note of this new technology. Though it wasn't produced in North Carolina, leaders saw a path forward for the state as traditional strengths of tobacco, furniture, and textile production began to decline. As a result, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center started its work as a private, non-profit organization in 1984. It's the first organization launched to support a statewide life sciences industry.

"The industry has grown from a handful of companies to more than 735 today," said Doug Edgeton, president and CEO of NCBiotech. "But more importantly, we see tremendous job growth ahead. Our biomanufacturers consistently add jobs, and every year, more companies announce they are coming to the North Carolina, and bringing hundreds of jobs."

These companies include research, testing and manufacturing and stretch from RTP outward to reach the entire state. A cadre of biomanufacturing facilities dot the landscape, employing more than 27,000 people. These workers reside in at least 93 of the state's 100 counties.

This geographic spread of jobs resulted from state investments in the late 1990s and early 2000s. First, NCBiotech and training partners put together training coursework for biomanufacturing jobs. Companies in the state were growing rapidly and hiring each other's employees, so training more people for these high-paying jobs became a priority. The network of community colleges providing the training eventually became NCBioNetwork.

Then a portion of the state's tobacco settlement money was invested in training facilities – the Golden LEAF Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center at North Carolina State University and the Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Training Enterprise at North Carolina Central University.

"This long-term investment in talent has created a strong advantage for North Carolina in recruiting new life science companies, and growing those that are here," said Edgeton.

In 2020 alone, companies announced nearly 3,000 new jobs in life sciences in North Carolina. The state's job-ready talent and training programs continue to attract these jobs. The work of NCBiotech also helps to bolster the state's life sciences prowess.

"When representatives from companies, regions or even other countries visit North Carolina, to a person, they comment on the deliberate actions that built our state's ecosystem," said Edgeton.

NCBiotech's programs initially funded recruitment of scientists and grants to develop ideas. Education programs came next, followed by those that helped take technology out of university labs and into small companies. Loan programs now help those companies bootstrap support to run experiments to prove their technology is worthy of larger investment. Finally, NCBiotech added recruitment support to address the specialized needs of life sciences.

The result is a thriving industry, recognized around the globe for its breadth and talent. This leads to new jobs in an industry that has proven essential in a global pandemic.

"We encourage anyone who is looking for something new to consider life sciences," said Edgeton. "In North Carolina, you will find affordable training opportunities, and companies that are hiring. Many support your further professional growth, and provide excellent compensation and benefits along the way."

(Photo Courtesy of Grifols)

This article was written by our sponsor, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

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