RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — If North Carolina, and the RTP area in particular, is to continue to have a growing biotechnology and life science industry, state leaders must be more proactive in order to counter ever-increasing competition.

That’s the conclusion of a new 21-page report commissioned by the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, the NC Biotechnology Center, the NC Biosciences Organization and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

Citing developments in other states, the report stated: “With these new competitive realities, the Research Triangle Region has no choice but to thoughtfully re-examine its life sciences industry assets and reinvigorate efforts to retain and expand the region’s industry.”

Titled “A Blueprint for Life Sciences Industry Growth in the Research Triangle Region,” the study made a series of recommendations ranging from raising more venture capital to training a workforce for a labor pool needed by life science, biotech and bio manufacturing firms.

“Their proposals are in line with our own priorities for the coming year,” said Barry Teater, a spokesperson for the NC Biotech Center, after reading the report, which was issued Tuesday. “In particular, when it comes to training a workforce, venture capital, and bio manufacturing especially. We see a real opportunity in that sector.”

Charles Hayes, president and chief executive officer of the RTP Regional Partnership, which covers 13 counties, said the report pointed out the importance of the biotech and life science industry.

“Maintaining the vitality of this diverse industry can play a key role in ensuring the region’s future economic health,” he said in a statement.

Specific recommendations include:

  • Enhance the entrepreneurial climate of the life sciences industry in the Research Triangle Region through increases in venture capital funding and other mechanisms to promote fiscal stability for the partnership

  • Develop a skilled life sciences work-force plan of action that complements the anticipated growth in jobs for researchers and technicians essential for sustained growth and extension of quality of job opportunities for Research Triangle Region residents.

  • Energize the role of research universities and hospitals to cooperate in technology transfer partnerships.

  • Develop and implement a marketing strategy to advance the life sciences industry growth in the Research Triangle Region and state.

The report was written by Peter Pellerito of PMP Public Affairs Consulting in Chapel Hill. He prepared a similar report for the state of Hawaii in 1999.

Increasing threats

Pellerito pointed out that many states, such as Michigan, Texas, California and Virginia, are actively seeking development of biotech and life science firms. Michigan, for example, is funneling considerable amounts of tobacco settlement money into the biotech sector, as former Governor John Engler pointed out at the Emergine Issues Forum last week at NC State.

The biotech and life science firms in the RTP region had operating budgets of more than $3.4 billion and employed some 18,000 workers with a combined payroll of $940 million, he said. Those 18,000 jobs in turn helped create another 36,000 service jobs. And his survey determined that biotech and life science firms are prepared to spend as much as $800 million in construction projects over the next three years, supporting another 15,200 jobs.

The biotech and life science sector has attracted $2 billion in out-of-state investment through use of some $135 million in state investments, Pellerito said, citing NC Department of Commerce figures.

Local problems

The reported cited three major problems the biotech and life science sector faces:

  • The crippling economic downturn in the state’s economy over the past two years has put a budget strain on publicly supported programs that support small company development, including the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and the University of North Carolina system.

  • Venture capital investment in the region’s life sciences companies is depriving local firms of important sources of early funding vital to long-term viability. According to the 2003 VentureOne U.S. venture capital survey, funding for Triangle area companies actually decreased $21 million to $360 million in 2002. This funding for the region’s companies translates into less than one-fourth of one percent (.025) of the total $19.4 billion invested last year across the nation.

  • Public infrastructure including roads and water and the lack of convenient flights to Europe and the West Coast continue to slow development of commercialization opportunities.
  • For excerpts of the report, see:

    The full report can be read online at: