ROCKY MOUNT–The Golden LEAF Foundation agreed to supply $60 million for a $64.5 million biotech training initiative to help attract biomanufacturing jobs to the state Thursday.

The initiative, strongly supported by the NC Biotechnology Center and NC BIO, and Gov. Mike Easley, will get an additional $4.5 million from biotech companies in the state.

Valeria Lee, president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, tells Local Tech Wire that Sam Taylor, president of NC BIO, the state arm of the national industry lobbying organization, sent the foundation board a letter committing the biotech community to providing the $4.5 million.

In 1999 the state established the Golden LEAF Foundation to create jobs with the $2.3 billion North Carolina received from the national tobacco settlement.

Lee says the prospects that the biotech training program will accomodate people in all parts of the state was a major factor in stimulating the Golden LEAF grant.

Longterm Commitment

On Thursday, the Foundation approved a plan that creates a $36 million training facility at North Carolina State University. It will support both graduate and undergraduate biotechnology degree programs at NCSU. Another $9.4 million goes to NC community colleges for workforce training.

Lee emphasized that the program is a “longterm commitment. It won’t provide training and a job for someone tomorrow.”

The Biotechnology Center received a $200,000 grant in 2002 to help the state’s colleges and universities plan their role in the biotech training program. It included an assessment of the industry’s needs and how the colleges and universities could prepare employees to meet those needs. It helped the community colleges develop a Biowork course that provides introductory training.

The state legislature will have to find about $14 million annually starting two years from now to fund operating costs of the college and NCSU programs. Last year, the legislature failed to fund a $30 million biotech training initiative.

Lee says the foundation board heard assurances that the leadership of both the NC Senate and the House have committed to providing the funds “necessary to keep this program going and growing.”

Grant Sends a Global Message

Promoters of the biotechnology training initiative say it could help create 100,000 jobs in a decade by attracting more biomanufacturing plants to the state. At the 2003 Biotech Conference in the Triangle, Gov. Easley said a farmer in the eastern part of the state asked him, “Just what is biotech, anyway?”

Gov. Easley replied, “About $17 an hour.”

Leslie Alexandre, president of the Biotech Center, tells Local Tech Wire, “This effort has been underway for more than a year and represents outstanding planning by all the participants.”

Alexandre says, “We’re doing something no one else is doing. It’s a tremendous example of a public-private partnership. It sends a message to the world that we’re going to continue to be a global leader in biotechnology.”

North Carolina is already one of the top biotech manufacturing states. Top pharmaceutical and biotech companies and several start-ups have manufacturing facilities spread throughout the state. They include Bayer in Clayton, Biogen and Diosynth in the Triangle, MWG in High Point, Novzymes in Franklin, Corn Products International in Winston Salem, and Ajinomoto USA, in Raleigh.

Alexandre says, “We know we’re on the short list of many biotech companies looking to build biotech plants in the United States.”

The Biotechnology Center says the state employs a total of 4,581 workers in biomanufacturing now.

KBI BioPharma Picks Durham

KBI BioPharma, a growing biotech startup, said Wednesday that it has contracted to buy the 300,000-square-foot former Mitsubishi semiconductor plant in north Durham. KBI is a spinoff of Atlanta’s Kinetic Biosystems. It received a $1 million loan from the Biotechnology Center in April when it agreed to locate in the state.

Tony Laughrey, KBI’s chief executive officer said operations could start in six to nine months. The company plans to make biotech products for other companies.

The company told Durham County officials it expects to hire 75 people in its initial two years and up to 550 by 2008. The jobs would range from those starting in the $32,000 range for high school graduates and average more than $60,000 a year.

The company also told County officials it has raised $6 million in venture backing and entered a collaboration with an unidentified large pharmaceutical company. In April, KBI said it would need to raise from $15 million to $20 million in debt financing to build the facility.

Hamner’s Vision

The initiative to provide biotech training to workers in an effort to attract still more biotech manufacturing to the state evolved from a push by Charles Hamner, Ph.D, former president and CEO of the Biotechnology Center. Dr. Hamner is frequently credited with visionary leadership that helped the state attain its current position as one of the top five states for biotech companies.

Hamner saw the industry’s pressing need for increasing biomanufacturing capacity as something North Carolina could provide, bringing high paying jobs into the state.

Because of the substantial biomanufacturing sector already in the state, it has the necessary infrastructure in place to meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements for building, equipping, and validating every step of construction and use.

Biomanufacturing requires knowledgeable support systems that include architecture, engineering, instrumentation and consulting firms that understand the strict FDA regulations.

The Golden LEAF Foundation