Editor’s note: Charlotte Beat is a regular weekly feature in WRAL Local Tech Wire.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Charlotte’s business community has caught biotech fever.

Certainly the nearly 100 people attending the recent Biotech Breakfast sponsored by the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce had the bug. The standing room only crowd of about 100 included real estate developers, patent attorneys, corporate representatives and economic development types, as well as the simply curious.

The event featured three speakers: Bob Wilhelm, executive director of the Charlotte Research Institute at UNC Charlotte; Kannapolis City Manager Mike Legg; and Lynne Scott Safrit, president of Castle & Cooke, Inc.

Castle & Cooke is the David Murdock-owned company developing the N.C. Research Campus, the $1-billion, 350-acre mixed-use development being designed to become one of the top biotech centers in the world. Today, it is literally rising out of the ashes like a phoenix on the site of the former Pillowtex plant in downtown Kannapolis, where nearly 5,000 people (the most ever in the state’s history) were laid off in July 2003.

While Legg described how Kannapolis is preparing for the impact of the campus — which is expected to directly create some 5,000 biotech jobs and another 30,000 jobs indirectly — the Charlotte crowd was primarily interested in learning about the biotech center itself. For many of the attendees, it was the first time they grasped the full scope of the project.

“The Research Campus is not just about Kannapolis, it’s about the whole region,” Safrit told them. “Its proximity to Charlotte is one of its major selling points.” Wilhelm pointed out that Kannapolis is 18 miles from UNCC.

In the Campus’ promotional materials — including a four-minute video Safrit showed at the breakast event — it is described as being in the center of the state’s ‘biotech corridor’ running from Research Triangle Park through the Triad, Kannapolis and Charlotte to Asheville. RTP is currently home to 514 of the state’s 730 biotech firms; the Charlotte area has 29 of them. North Carolina has the third largest biotech industry in the U.S., behind California and Massachusetts.

Last week, steel started being set on the heart of the Campus — the 311,000-square-foot core laboratory building that will feature cutting edge equipment, including some pieces currently unavailable in the state. Going up in the next five years or so will be 1 million square feet of office space; 350,000 square feet of retail and commercial space; 700 residential units; a 1,000-seat auditorium; a private girls’ science high school (operated by UNCC); and a 120-room hotel and wellness center. The city of Kannapois will get a new government center and a municipal library as part of the project. Greenspace and walking trails will connect to the city’s park system.

But for Murdock, the Campus is not just about buildings, Safrit explained. “He sees it as a center of science, discovery and research.” His hopes are to attract some 100 biotech companies — many of them start-ups — that will have access to the core lab facilities. He has set up a $150-million charitable foundation that will fund the purchase of this equipment.

But recognizing that young companies need capital, too, Murdock is also establishing a $100 million venture capital fund for companies locating on the Campus. The fund doesn’t have a name yet, but its director will come on board in July.

Safrit added that because “scientists like to be with other scientists,” there will be four university-run research centers on the Campus. UNC Chapel Hill will operate one dedicated to nutrition, UNCC one on bioinformatics, N.C.State one on plant genetics, and Duke University one on translational medicine.

As owner of Dole Foods, Murdock hopes his company will benefit from much of the research. Said Sarit, “There are all kinds of good reasons to build this Campus, but ultimately it’s an economic reason for him — it’s about making money.”

Others recognize that as well. Charlotte Chamber president Bob Morgan opened the event with the comment, “New products go from labs into the marketplace. And the most jobs and the best jobs are where the research is done.”

OpSource Gets SBIR Award

A spin-out of UNC Charlotte, OpSource, Inc. has been awarded a Phase I Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Program Award. The company develops and licenses high performance processes for metal manufacturing industries and uses patented measurement, design, and diagnosis technology to develop highly optimized process specifications including machine and tool selection, set-up and machining strategy.

Peak 10 Named a Finalist

Charlotte-based Peak 10 Inc., which operates data centers in several southeastern cities, has been named a finalist for the Charlotte Chamber’s 2006 entrepreneur awards. The awards are divided into two categories — one for companies with one to 20 employees and the other for companies with 21 to 100. Peak 10 is a finalist in the larger company category. Winners will be announced at a dinner event on Sept. 14.

Golf Goes High Tech

KMX Lab, using technology by Solothree, is now open at Ballantyne Resort in Charlotte. The lab incorporates kinematics, the study of motion, to maximize golf performance potential. The resort, with a five-star championship golf course, will be the only place in Charlotte to offer the PGA-endorsed comprehensive golf evaluation. By utilizing the highest-level technology and expertise to focus on movement techniques, the lab will provide golfers individualized exercise solutions designed to enhance movement efficiency and maximize golf performance.