Research Triangle Park – The North Carolina Biotechnology Center is helping lead the drive to bring a new $450 million federal bio research facility to the state.

The Biotech center is urging people to show up for a public hearing Tuesday night in Granville County where the National Bio and Argo Defense Facility will be discussed. North Carolina is one of the finalists for the site, which will replace the aging federal facility in Plum Island, N.Y.

Given that the lab will be working on dangerous compounds and bacteria, protestors in several states have spoken out against the idea of it being located in their back yards.

Locally, The Independent devoted its July 25 cover to the lab with the huge headline “Biotech or Bioharzard?” The cover included two people outfitted in space-age protective suits.

Norris Tolson, the new president and chief executive officer of the Biotech Center, lobbied attendees at Local Tech Wire’s “Exchange” networking event last week to attend the hearing. He said the center would be a huge economic lift for the state with more than 400 jobs requiring top-level research scientists and other highly paid workers.

North Carolina’s bid calls for the center to be built in Butner.

The public hearing is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s process for picking the winning site. In federal terms, it’s a “scoping meeting.” The hearing will begin at 6 p.m. at South Granville High School in Creedmoor.

“Biotechnology company executives, university scientists and others are urged to attend the meeting and speak or write in favor of North Carolina’s advantages,” the Biotech Center says on its Web site.

Other state finalists include Georgia, Texas, Mississippi and Kansas.
North Carolina is one of five finalists for the facility along with Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi and Texas.

According to the Biotech Center, North Carolina has “many points in its favor.” Those include:

• A long history of public-private partnership and collaboration in science and technology

• Strong ongoing state investment in biotechnology development

• Major research universities with strength in the life sciences

• No. 3 national ranking in biotechnology, with 400+ bioscience companies employing 48,000 people

• No. 2 national ranking in agricultural biotechnology

• Highly trained workforce of scientists and technicians

• Strong community college workforce training programs

• Access to the research community in Research Triangle Park

• Experience in operating dozens of similar secure bio-research facilities

• U.S. leader in swine and poultry industries and related agribusiness

• Strong infrastructure, including highways, rail and international airports

• Experience with federal facilities: NIEHS, EPA, USDA and National Guard

• Nationally recognized for emergency management expertise

• High quality of life and low cost of living and doing business (ease of attracting and retaining talent)

A group of some 30 private and public organizations have banded together to support the North Carolina bid.

Of course, there are opponents to the project as well. And they will no doubt make their concerns known Tuesday night. The debate about whether such a facility being built in North Carolina will be interesting to watch.