The North Carolina Biotechnology Center is stepping up its efforts to spark more economic development across the state.

The Center said Wednesday it has launched a Statewide Operations and Economic development Division with the task of creating and growing biotech companies and jobs.

Named to lead the new effort is Mike Wilkins, a former state legislator and a senior policy advisor to Joe Hackney, the North Carolina House Speaker. Wilkins’ title is senior vice president of statewide operations and economic development.

The group will include a staff of 15 people.

Steven Casey and Bill Bullock, who are currently executives at the Center, will report to Wilkins. Case, who had been business development director, is now vice president of statewide development. Bullock, formerly director of bioscience industrial development, is now vice president of bioscience industrial development.

Wilkins will report directly to Norris Tolson, the Center’s recently named president and chief executive officer. Tolson, a former legislator who also led the state’s departments of Commerce and Revenue, took the job in June.

North Carolina’s biotechnology industry already numbers more than 450 companies and some 48,000 workers.

The latest initiative follows efforts by the Biotech Center to grow the industry across the state, such as the opening of regional offices.

The Biotech Center is also supporting efforts to build a biofuels industry in the state and backs location of a national biowarfare lab in Butner.

In September, it unveiled a strategic plan for expanding the state’s fledgling medical device and advanced medical technology research industry. NC BIO, a statewide lobbying organization, also participated in the study.

The plan calls for the creation of a Center for Advanced Medical Technologies. Details were disclosed at the Biotech Center during a Council for Entrepreneurial Development program focused on medical devices.

“This new division is critical to our mission of developing biotechnology and creating high-paying jobs in all parts of the state,” said Tolson in a statement. “Mike Wilkins, Steve Casey and Bill Bullock collectively have decades of senior experience in business, government, economic development and the military, and we’re fortunate to have them on our team.”

The regional offices as well as related advisory committees will become part of Wilkins’ responsibilities.

Wilkins, a native of Roxboro, has more than 30 years of experience in economic development.