Drug researcher will bring up to 300 jobs to N.C. Research Campus

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Emily Ford
Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS ó Most people haven’t heard of it, but an international company coming to the N.C. Research Campus has local leaders crowing about new jobs and the possibility of landing a big-name drug maker as a tenant.
“It’s a coup for us,” said Clyde Higgs, vice president for business development for Castle & Cooke North Carolina. “It’s humongous.”
Pharmaceutical Product Development Inc., known as PPD, will open a large office at the campus and hire up to 300 people over the next three years to work in clinical research. Salaries will range from $60,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
More than 120 guests, including a contingent from Castle & Cooke headquarters in Los Angeles, packed restaurant Forty-Six Wednesday to hear campus founder and benefactor David H. Murdock announce the new partnership.
Based in Wilmington with offices in 30 countries, PPD is a contract research organization that helps other companies develop and test new drugs and medical devices. PPD employs about 11,000 people worldwide and uses the motto, “No one gets medicine into the system faster.”
Higgs called it a “significant, strategic tenant.”
Not only will the company bring jobs to Kannapolis, it also could attract additional tenants, Higgs said.
“Selfishly, it’s a recruitment tool for us,” he said.
When PPD clients such as drug makers Merck and Pfizer come to Kannapolis for a site visit, they will see the $1.5 billion 350-acre biotechnology campus, Higgs said.
The campus is “currently engaged in conversation” with 39 companies, said Lynne Scott Safrit, president of campus developer Castle & Cooke North Carolina.
Murdock, the billionaire owner of Dole Food Co. and Castle & Cooke who turns 85 this month, was up until midnight Tuesday making a list of companies he wanted to contact this week, Safrit said. Murdock has a home in Landis and visits about once a month.
Murdock declined to name any potential tenants, but called them “big, powerful companies.”
PPD will begin hiring immediately, including searching for a director for the Kannapolis office.
Employees could work from home until the company finds a temporary location, said Dr. Fred Eshelman, the company’s founder and chief executive officer.
Eventually, the company will lease 40,000 square feet in the Medical Office Building on the Research Campus, which is next in line for construction. PPD will share the building with Carolinas HealthCare System.
Kannapolis Mayor Bob Misenheimer said PPD soon will become one of Cabarrus County’s top employers.
New jobs are “something this area desperately needs,” Misenheimer said.
The Research Campus rises on the ruins of an old textile mill that Murdock once owned. When the mill shut down in 2003, more than 4,300 people lost their jobs.
Many of the jobs PPD will create ó clinical researchers, project managers and clinical research associates ó won’t go to displaced millworkers. But the company also needs support and administrative positions, Eshelman said.
In addition to registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and people with bachelor of science degrees, the company looks for people “with common sense” who can retrain and work their way up, he said.
PPD’s potential 300 jobs are only a fraction of the 5,000 jobs that leaders expect the campus to create.
But each technical job should spawn five to seven additional jobs, said Dr. Andrew Conrad, chief scientific officer for the campus.
“Remember, a rising tide lifts all boats,” Conrad said.
Nearly 70 percent of jobs on the Research Campus will not require a four-year degree, said John Cox, president of the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Cox, who called adequate funding of the state’s community college system “urgent,” reminded the crowd that Murdock will pay for people to get their high school equivalency.
“The more you learn, the more you earn,” Cox said.
Many speakers said the community college system, which includes 28 biotech training programs, holds the key to workforce development for PPD and other high-tech companies attracted to the Research Campus.
Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, which will have a campus in Kannapolis, is already in talks with PPD to design a certificate program, Higgs said.
“We’ll get training programs up and running pretty quick,” Eshelman said.
Murdock’s emphasis on collaboration at the N.C. Research Campus helped attract PPD, Eshelman said.
While many speakers invoked the idea of collaboration, the campus last week awarded a contract to Carolinas HealthCare System as its exclusive health care provider.
Safrit said the contract doesn’t conflict with the collaboration ideal.
Other institutions, including Carolinas HealthCare System’s rival Novant Health, which recently merged with Rowan Regional Medical Center, still can participate with the campus, she said. Duke University’s long-term medical study named for Murdock will offer opportunity to many health care institutions, she said.
Rowan Regional could participate with PPD on a clinical trial, Eshelman said.
PPD regularly recruits physicians and hospitals to help develop and advance new drugs, therapies and medical devices. The company will recruit in Rowan County, he said.
“We can reach out to those institutions,” Eshelman said. “This will be a tremendous hub for new places to start trials.”
Contact Emily Ford at eford@salisburypost.com.