When a chorus of cheers accompanies announcements like the $1.85 billion Novo Nordisk expansion in Clayton, the echo is a reminder: it only happens because a lot of behind-the-scenes work quietly makes it possible.

It always involves months, sometimes years, of partnering, confidential meetings, credibility building, information gathering. Stretches of maddening silence can be upended by calls for action under fierce deadlines. There’s usually competition, often uncertainty, always hope.

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center has been part of these dramas across the state since NCBiotech was founded in 1984. That’s because its job is to help bring life science jobs to North Carolina.

Still, most people have no idea how NCBiotech works with other state and local organizations and with those current and potential employers whose jobs now pay an average $81,000 a year here.

NCBiotech has a major role

The fact is, the Biotech Center is a critical piece of this economic development puzzle. In the Novo Nordisk expansion, for example. NCBiotech specialists contributed to discussions, presentations, and proposals. The Center also provided financial support through its Economic Development Award program. Numerous people at the Center worked in partnership with people at the other agencies involved in the project, to fill gaps when needed.

Who knew? Few. That’s the nature of this process. And also the danger. Because when you have to keep this important work close to the vest, for the long-term benefit of North Carolinians, by definition, it goes unnoticed. It’s part of the baggage. It’s why the projects have goofy code names. Names like “morning rain” that won’t disclose the company, or even the kind of industry, that’s involved. For corporations considering whether, or where, to locate a new facility, timing and trust are crucial. Corporate execs need to know they’re dealing with people who won’t blow it. People who understand that lots of dominoes need to stack just right to sustain a delicate balance when billions of dollars and corporate reputations are at stake. So it goes to the pros.

But that also means crucial work must be background work. It’s like the Secret Service of economic development. It can only succeed if it’s under the radar. It can’t be in the spotlight. Therefore, it can never get due credit for what it produces.

Workforce training part of the legacy

One thing that can be seen is that NCBiotech’s fingerprints are on the workforce training programs that attracted this Novo Nordisk expansion. The Johnston County Workforce Development Center, which sits on Clayton land donated by Novo Nordisk, provides two-year degrees in the life sciences as well as customized training tailored to specific company needs.

Years ago, NCBiotech contributed to developing this unique workforce by bringing industry leaders and training partners together to design programs specific to biomanufacturing. This initial work led to a world-beating training partnership that now means existing employers like Novo Nordisk quickly fill 90 percent of their jobs from within the state.

Biotech Center involved with Novo Nordisk over 22 years

It’s also worth noting that NCBiotech has a legacy with Novo Nordisk. The Center worked with other state and local resource people and Novo Nordisk leaders to help bring the company here 22 years ago. And it has continued to support its growth. This included collaborations that resulted in the company’s $73 million 2010 expansion that added 85 jobs to its diabetes-treatment production lines.

And for perspective on how these things impact the state, that 2010 expansion also led Novo Nordisk into a partnership with an Asheville company. That company, Nypro, added 120 employees to supply components for Novo Nordisk insulin devices.

It’s important to understand that the Biotech Center is only one piece of this very intricate puzzle. Each segment brings unique skills and knowledge. Nobody knows the community as well as the local leaders. The state brings important muscle and recognition. And the Biotech Center brings specific life science expertise that these companies value. NCBiotech people, with backgrounds in science and business development and cutting-edge agriculture, speak their language. And that has proven to be crucial. 

These big-time global businesses have the world begging them to move in. Success in recruiting and retention, however, is a mix of art, science, luck and money. And it requires the cooperation of experienced professionals in site selection, economic development, finance, public policy, education and even real estate and staffing.

So when the cheers rang out for this revered life science company’s decision to add at least 691 jobs paying an average $68,420, the noise level was definitely justified. It was, after all, an irrefutable success for everyone involved.

Especially for all those who keep their heads down, their spirits up, and quietly make these deals happen.

(C) N.C. Biotechnology Center

Note: Veteran journalist Jim Shamp is director of public relations for the N.C. Biotechnology Center