The center at the heart of the life science industry in North Carolina is wounded – not dead.
The General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory are cutting the N.C. Biotech Center by nearly 27 percent, but Norris Tolson, its president and CEO, says the center will continue to pursue economic development as it develops a strategy to deal with the cuts.
“The final state budget allocates $12.6 million for the Biotechnology Center,” Tolson tells WRALTechWire in the wake of the agreed-upon N.C. budget deal. ”This is $4.6 million less than our current funding level and represents a 26.7 percent cut in our appropriation.
“In the coming days, we will be working to consolidate our activities around this new number.”
Tolson and Center management began reviewing details of the budget Monday. Republican leaders struck a budget deal late Sunday night. It could have been worse. The governor had originally planned to cut 60 percent. The Senate wanted a 50 percent reduction.
Apparently Tolson, a veteran legislator, worked some magic to convince the House to hold its ground for the most part on a different funding plan that fought off bigger cuts. At the same time, however, $4 million isn’t automatically renewed each year.
So how will the Biotech Center cope?
Will there be layoffs?
Will some of its statewide offices be closed?
Will grants, loans and other programs be terminated?
No one knows – or is saying at this point.
“This is a process that will take some time to complete,” Tolson says.
“Ultimately NCBiotech is about creating jobs for North Carolina, and we have been very successful in that effort – 23.5 percent employment growth over the last decade. We will continue to push this effort for our citizens because these are very good jobs with average salaries of $78,000.”
Somehow, Tolson said, the Center will continue to drive job growth.
“Less money to invest in job creation usually means fewer jobs,” he warned, ”but we intend to redouble our efforts at the Biotech Center to keep this economic development engine running strong.”