KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Just five years after Pillotex shut down a massive textile plant and threw 4,800 people out of work, the site where the largest mass layoff in North Carolina history will soon be humming again.
However, the hum will be from computers and other technology, not looms.
The North Carolina Research Center will formally open its doors later this summer when the massive yet beautiful 300,000 square foot main building opens. Soon thereafter two smaller but certainly impressive buildings will open for work to be done by scientists and researchers from N.C. State, Dole Food and the University of North Carolina system.
Thursday night, some 100 business executives turned out for a reception and preview of the $1.5 billion complex that is being built by billionaire David Murdock. The NCRC, site developer Castle & Cooke and WRAL Local Tech Wire co-hosted the event, and several first-time visitors to the NCRC were stunned by what they saw.
“You have to see this place to believe it,” said Olin Broadway, one of Charlotte’s best known serial entrepreneurs and now executive-in-residence at UNC Charlotte’s College of Computing and Informatics.
A power plant for the 350-acre project is already complete. A parking deck will be finished soon as well. And landscaping is underway, with trees and plants picked by the extremely detailed-conscious Murdock.
People who will work at the campus already are starting to arrive. Duke, the UNC system and N.C. State already have occupied temporary office space downtown as they wait for the first research buildings to open.
“We will get this place open this summer,” Lynne Scott Safrit, president of Castle & Cooke North Carolina, told the crowd. “This is the year of people.”
Pharmaceutical Product Development’s recent decision to open a 300-person operation at the site is just the latest in a series of deals to be announced for the NCRC, Safrit added.
“If I told you all the people Clyde is talking to, you would get real excited,” Safrit said, referring to Clyde Higgs, vice president of business development for the campus.
The campus continues to add more public and private partners, Higgs told the crowd. He wouldn’t disclose any names but one announcement soon will likely involve a major N.C. and international life science firm. And don’t be surprised if some foreign universities also expand to Kannapolis, he added.
Appalachian State will soon become the eighth member of the UNC system to establish a partnership with the NCRC, which also is working with the state’s Community College System. Red Hat is already committed to the NCRC as are several small life science and medical firms
“More and more people and companies are asking us how they can get involved, and it’s not just scientists and biotech firms,” Higgs said. “Law firms, recruiting firms, moving firms, service providers have talked with us.”
To meet growing demand, the NCRC soon will launch a Web site for business partners, Higgs told the crowd.
Construction progress is not keeping pace with expectations from Murdock, however, both Higgs and Safrit said with smiles.
“Every month, Mr. Murdock comes to Kannapolis and stays for a week,” Safrit said. “He says ‘It looks the same way it did when I was here last month!’”