NC Biotech Center leader Norris Tolson to retire June 30
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Research Triangle Park, N.C. — Norris Tolson, who as president and CEO of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center emphasized how the life sciences industry adds North Carolina jobs, has created yet another job opening – his own.
Tolson, 74, will retire from the Biotech Center effective June 30, the private, non-profit corporation announced Wednesday. The center has started a search for a successor.
Tolson is traveling and was unavailable Wednesday for comment.
"I have been blessed to have such a tremendous opportunity to lead a strong organization that makes a difference for so many North Carolinians," Tolson said in a statement issued by the Biotech Center.
Tolson’s announcement marks his second retirement. He assumed leadership of the Biotech Center in July 2007 following his retirement from industry. He was an executive with DuPont, retiring in 1993. After returning to North Carolina, he served in the legislature from 1994 to 1997 and then served in three different cabinet positions. Before leading the Biotech Center, Tolson served on the organization's Board of Directors and the Executive Committee.
Throughout his tenure, Tolson has stressed the economic impact of biotechnology on the state. He created an economic development division at the Center, expanded loan programs for small companies, and added support programs to meet changing industry needs. In 2009, he launched the Biotech Center’s AgBiotech Initiative to support the agricultrual biotech industry in North Carolina.
Growth and Challenges
Tolson’s seven years leading the Biotech Center coincided with a time of considerable growth for the life sciences industry in the state. Research from The Battelle Group found that biotechnology companies and related firms account for more than 237,000 jobs representing nearly $15 billion in salaries and $59 billion in economic output. Battle’s 2012 report said that from 2011 to 2010, the North Carolina life science sector grew 23.5 percent – faster than any other state. Battelle lists the Research Triangle as the third largest biotech cluster in the country.
But Tolson has also experienced challenges leading the state-funded entity.
Last year, Gov. Pat McCroy’s proposed budget cut Biotech Center funding by nearly 60 percent. Tolson was successful convincing lawmakers to restore some of the Biotech Center’s funding, resulting in a 25 percent budget cut. The Biotech Center adjusted to the reduction in funding with a combination of cuts in jobs and programs, with decisions made by evaluating everything against a General Assembly mandate: Everything at the center must be oriented toward job creation or wealth creation. In the end, the combination of layoffs and Biotech Center buyouts reduced headcount by about 20 percent.
“I don’t anticipate additional layoffs,” Tolson said at the time. “However, if the General Assembly hits us with another budget reduction next year, I’ve either got to cut people or programs. At some point you can’t operate the programs without the people.”
Tolson’s list of recognitions include the Watauga Medal from his alma mater, N.C. State University, Distinguished Alumnus from the school's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and induction to the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 2013.
The Biotech Center’s Board of Directors is conducting the search for a Tolson’s successor. John (Jack) F.A.V. Cecil, vice-chairman of the board and president of Biltmore Farms LLC in Asheville, is leading the search. The board also has two committee that will offer input: the Corporate Leadership Committee is working on the succession plans and the Strategic Oversight Committee is working on determining the future direction of the Biotech Center. The board’s goal is to have a successor by the time Tolson departs June 30.
Tolson has not yet decided exactly what he will do next but the Biotech Center said he plans to continue his work on many boards as well as spending time as a husband, father and grandfather.
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