Editor’s note: Charlotte Beat is a regular weekly feature in WRAL Local Tech Wire.
________________________________________________________________________________________Media coverage of the North Carolina Research Campus in downtown Kannapolis has primarily focused on the big picture: how David Murdock, owner of Dole Food Company, will invest $1 billion to create a biotechnology center on the 350-acre site that used to house the Pillowtex mills complex, where 5,000 people lost their jobs when the company shut down in 2003.

The state’s university system will be a joint partner in the venture, and several universities will have programs and facilities on-site. The campus is also expected to attract more than 100 biotech companies and to be an incubator for new life science and biotech firms with a focus on health and nutrition. The campus will eventually include research facilities, greenhouse buildings, office space, townhomes, detached housing, hotels, parks, outdoor amenities, a girls’ science high school and retail space.

John Cox, president and CEO of the Cabarrus County Chamber of Commerce, estimates the campus will create about 5,000 jobs in its initial stage and 30,000 within the next five to seven years. About two-thirds of these jobs can be filled by people with an applied science degree, a program currently offered by Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

But it takes bricks and mortar to make such grandiose dreams become reality, and the initial construction is in the hands of the Carolinas regional office of Turner Construction Company, located in Charlotte. Last month, the company began building the heart of the campus, the 311,000-square-foot core lab, a state-of-the-art manufacturing biogenic contract facility. In addition to offering temporary space to UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University, the building will include a fermentation facility, a DNA sequencing facility, micro-array facilities, and a mass spectrometry facility. But for all its high tech facilities inside, its exterior will feature a classical architectural style and a brick façade.

Said Turner regional manager and vice president Bill Caldwell, “This is a creature of its own, a special building requiring special people to understand how the building will work and then coordinate with the design team to make sure that does. It’s a collaborative effort to bring together the best of all worlds.” Turner is bringing a lab preconstruction specialist from its headquarters in New Jersey to assist with the project.

The Pillowtex facility has been demolished, and site work is now underway. Caldwell said to expect to “see the building come out of the ground by August.” The facility is set to open in spring 2007.

‘Built Clean Protocols’

Workers on the site — now numbering about 50 — will receive specialized training on ‘built clean protocols’ that will be used for areas such as the fermentation lab and vivarium, where lab animals — primarily rodents — will be kept. These protocols include no eating, drinking or smoking during construction. Alcohol wipe downs will be done on all the ductwork, and air handlers will be cleaned at the factory and then sealed, to only be unwrapped when they are installed. Any areas — such as walls — that are closed up must be inspected beforehand.

Instead of square corners, the rooms in these areas will feature rounded cove corners because they’re easier to clean. The epoxy floors will be covered with highly cleanable finishes, and light fixtures will be fitted with gaskets to prevent leakages. Workers’ tools must also be cleaned before they enter these areas. Punch lists must be completed before system start-ups.

In the vivarium, complex systems will be set up to ensure an adequate and quiet airflow “to make it pleasant for the researchers,” said Jeff Owen, Turner’s project director for the lab. With so many animals in one place, special attention will be given to dissipate odors and to create a drainage system that can handle wastewater from cage washings.

It’s only appropriate that such care is going into building a facility that will have such a dramatic impact on the people of Kannapolis and the region. At the Sept. 12 press conference announcing the campus, Murdock said, “The most exciting part of this project is to be able to create sustainable, better-paying jobs for the people of Kannapolis and the region, and the creation of this scientific community centered on biotechnology will allow a transformation of this economy from a manufacturing-based one to one centered on scientific knowledge and research.”

But it’s not just North Carolinians who are interested in what’s happening in Kannapolis. “We are building a new city for the new century, and people all over the world are looking at us,” Cox said. In May, a delegation from the city and the campus will travel to Japan for the world’s largest biotechnology trade show.

Hiring News
In Robert Half International’s information-technology hiring index, 8% of CIOs in the Charlotte area say they plan to hire information-technology professionals in the second quarter, while 1% says they plan to cut staff. That net increase of 7% is down from the 9% forecast for the first quarter. Results are based on responses from 200 CIOs from Charlotte area companies with 100 or more employees. California-based Robert Half has been tracking financial hiring activity in the U.S. 1992 and places accounting and finance workers in temporary and contract jobs.
Recent Deals
Charlotte-based Mann Travels, the largest privately-owned full-service travel agency in the Carolinas, has selected US LEC Corp. provide its voice and data services. Under the agreement, US LEC will supply Mann with its MPLS VPN service, which will connect the travel agency’s 10 offices through a data and voice network. According to US LEC, also based in Charlotte, the service will improve performance and decrease costs.
Charlotte-based Baker & Taylor, Inc. is partnering with California-based Auto-Graphics Inc. to market software that provides libraries with the ability to sell books online. The jointly developed product allows library patrons to place orders directly through the library’s website or online catalogue. Purchases are shipped directly to the customer by Baker & Taylor, which distributes books and audio-visual materials and provides library services.
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