The North Carolina Biotechnology Center branded the state’s globally leading agricultural biotechnology hub on Wedesnday as the AgBio[sphere].

Nearly 100 leaders of agriculture, academia, business and economic development gathered at the NCBiotech headquarters in Research Triangle Park to applaud the brand’s announcement by NCBiotech President and CEO Doug Edgeton.

Several state ag leaders made commitments during the rollout event to use the brand as a global recognition tool in corporate recruitment and other promotional activities.

The branding initiative for North Carolina’s massive, and growing, array of biotech seed developers was made public even as final votes were being counted in the opposite corner of the country, in an Oregon initiative seeking to ignore science and require special labeling of foods containing products of biotech — frequently dubbed genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. By mid-afternoon the vote count showed that Oregon citizens had defeated the proposition A similar GMO-labeling proposal was defeated in Colorado.

Edgeton explained that the AgBio[sphere] brand will provide a recognizable identity to North Carolina’s complete value package for all facets of the industry. Those include academic research, workforce development, business support programs, a strong agricultural sector and a massive $59 billion-a-year biotech industry involving some 650 companies — more than 80 of them ag biotech firms.

Technology, education will bring $100B/yr

Steve Troxler, commissioner of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, reminded participants that the state’s $78 billion economy-leading ag industry has grown from its hardscrabble subsistence plots of a century ago, thanks to a combination of research and technology.

“Technology and education will drive us again,” said Troxler, “and thanks to the Biotechnology Center and all these partnerships represented here today, there’s nothing else like this anywhere.” He predicted the state’s increasingly technology-driven ag economy “is not that far away from reaching $100 billion a year.”

Richard Linton, Ph.D., dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University, projected that the state’s agricultural sector will grow by 40,000 new jobs by 2020, employing 800,000 North Carolinians. He, like Troxler, welcomed the branding initiative.

Now’s the time to keep ’em down on the farm

North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker said a recent recruiting trip to Japan marked the first time that the state’s agriculture and commerce departments engaged in a joint trade mission. “A demonstration in which North Carolina pork was cooking in the center of Tokyo was a telling reminder of North Carolina’s importance in feeding the world,” she said.

She challenged those in the audience to recognize the opportunities in North Carolina’s science-based agricultural future, and to reverse the two-generation mantra of adults advising children not to seek careers in agriculture. “There’s a great future in agriculture in North Carolina,” she noted as she thanked NCBiotech and its partners in academia, business and other communities for helping to enable those coalitions.

NCBiotech loans, grants pay off in jobs

Joy Parr Drach spoke of the entrepreneurial side of the state’s ag biotech future. She’s CEO of Advanced Animal Diagnostics (AAD), a Durham company that sells an on-farm system to diagnose mastitis, the costliest disease for dairy producers worldwide.

AAD’s technology originated at NCSU, with grant help from NCBiotech. Drach said NCBiotech then helped the company get started in 2003 with a $24,000 loan. Even though it wasn’t a large sum, she said, it was extremely important to bootstrap the startup.

AAD has since received $11 million in financing, led by Intersouth Partners, and including Novartis Venture Funds as well as other private investors, and now employs 35 people with a wide range of skills, earning twice the statewide average, said Drach.

Syngenta, whose roots in Research Triangle Park hearken to 1984, represented the global ag biotech support for the AgBio[sphere] rollout.

Syngenta picked NC as ‘THE place to be’

Michiel van Lookeren Campagne, Ph.D., the company’s head of biotechnology, brought chuckles from the audience when he described himself as a “fugitive from Europe” who’s now a “convert” as a North Carolinian. “You know — converts are more passionate,” he laughed.

“Our company is global and our competition is global,” he said. Syngenta, based in Basel, Switzerland, could have located anywhere in the world, he noted, but it chose North Carolina as headquarters for Syngenta Biotechnology, its biotech research arm, “because it’s THE place to be.”

He pointed to NCBiotech and its long-proven partnership-building capabilities across the life sciences as a major influence for the company’s continued growth and expansion in the state.

Other ag biotech giants with huge research facilities in RTP, including Bayer CropScience, BASF, Novozymes and others, frequently echo that observation, said Campagne. And all agree their employees “want to live here.”

“Now,” he said, “with AgBio[sphere] powered by the Biotechnology Center and all its partners, we’ll have a brand that can help create and represent our excitement.”

Note: Veteran journalist Jim Shamp, who is a frequent contributor to WRAL TechWire, is also director of public relations for the N.C. Biotechnology Center.

(C) NC Biotech Center