Former Gov. Jim Hunt, after an hour of hearing his vision and daring from 30 years ago praised abundantly as the dedicated a new annex to him, recalled Tuesday what the late Agriculture Commissioner Jim Graham said to remember any time you find a turtle on a fencepost.

"He didn’t get there by himself," Hunt quoted the longtime commissioner as saying. Waving his hand over the scientists, politicians and business leaders who stood between him and a ribbon he would cut to officially open the James B. Hunt Jr. Leadership Annex, Hunt said, "A lot of people put this turtle on that fencepost."

"I want you to feel very good about what you’ve done … all of you," Hunt said. He was a driving force in the launching of the center in the 1980s along with MCNC, the North Carolina School of Science and Math and other high-tech initiatives in RTP.

The center christened the $10 million addition in a ceremony that featured Gov. Bev Perdue, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, Biotech Center board Chairman Arthur M. Pappas, former state commissioner and center Executive Director Norris Tolson and Hatteras Ventures partner and former Glaxo chairman Robert A. Ingram.

"We have changed the state and we have changed the future," the former governor said, but he added, "I will urge you to stay at it now" despite a down economy.

The Biotech Center, which Hagan said was the first government-funded such facility in the world, has helped foster a biotechnology industry responsible for $64.6 billion in economic activity in the state, according to the center’s figures.

Competition is fierce, however, Ingram warned. Every governor in the U.S. "would like to have what we have," he said to Perdue. "We shouldn’t relinquish our lead," he told the group.

Hunt said biotechnology had given a future to a state that had grown on agriculture, textiles and furniture-making.

"It’s a great story, folks, of a great state," Hunt said.

A recent PriceWaterhouseCoopers analysis of venture investing found that 63 percent of it goes into biotechnology-based companies, Pappas said.

The state took a chance on the biotech center and the Research Triangle Park, Pappas added, but "the reward has been great."

Reeling off a list of biotechnology companies in the state, Hagan said the work is "being done here because Gov. Hunt had the vision."

"It took a lot of people to make this happen" by following Hunt’s lead, said Perdue, who admitted that when she first encountered biotechnology funding requests as a budget-writer in the state Senate asked, "What is that?"

It has succeeded, Hunt said, because "the business and political and educational leadership work together" in North Carolina to foster research and commercialize the results.

According to figures from the Biotech Center, the biotech industry is responsible for:

  • $1.92 billion in taxes to state and local government
  • 7,000 jobs at biotech companies
  • Another 170,000 jobs linked to the biotech sector
  • Average salaries of almost $75,000 for biotech jobs

Get the latest news alerts: at Twitter.