N.C. Research Campus hosts public at dedication

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó Saying his heart trembled from the excitement, founder David Murdock opened the $1.5 billion N.C. Research Campus Monday on the site of an abandoned textile mill.
With the sun rising dramatically over the four-story Core Laboratory Building, Kannapolis ushered in a new era of research and scientific discovery that some insist will have an impact not just across the state but around the globe.
Three years ago, Murdock announced an ambitious plan to develop a life sciences complex on the ruins of the old Pillowtex manufacturing plant, a textile mill that he once owned.
The controversial billionaire said he wanted to transform Kannapolis from a mill village to a biotechnology hub renowned for fighting disease, improving nutrition and creating superfoods.
The plan was so audacious, said N.C. Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, that “nobody really believed it would happen.”
“Well guess what?” Hartsell asked the huge crowd gathered outside for the public dedication of the first three scientific buildings on the 350-acre campus.
Murdock, the billionaire owner of Dole Food Co., gave credit to scientists, academia, legislators and even taxpayers. The campus belongs to all of them, he said.
“This is not the work of one man,” he said.
Education, the private sector and government have worked together to turn “a collective vision which I only started into a brilliant reality.”
Murdock warned that it will not be easy to meet the goals of the Research Campus.
“Good times often come only after much sacrifice and struggle, and we will have some of that here too,” he said.
Lynne Scott Safrit, president of Castle & Cooke North Carolina and a pivotal figure in the development of the project, declared the Research Campus “open for business.”
She said she was “astounded” by the progress of the campus, which just three years ago was an “empty canvas.” She spoke of Murdock’s “tireless devotion” to Kannapolis.
Murdock, a California real estate mogul, acknowledged that when he returned to Kannapolis to announce his plans, some residents viewed him with suspicion and thought he was just another developer out to make money.
But he has poured $400 million of his personal fortune into the project, Murdock said, with the promise of more to come.
“We’re a long way from being finished,” he said.
All eight universities with a presence on the Research Campus sent a delegation to the event. After much good-natured joking about the schools’ longtime rivalries, the chancellors from each university were introduced in alphabetical order.
Erskine Bowles, president of the University of North Carolina System, called the day a “turning point in our collective efforts to build a healthier, more prosperous future for North Carolina.”
U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes, the son of Miriam Cannon Hayes, paid homage to the Cannon family and its long legacy in Kannapolis. Patriarch Charles Cannon was an innovative businessman himself and would approve of the Research Campus that has replaced his textile mill.
“He is in heaven today saying ‘Yes! Absolutely!’ ” Hayes said.
The Research Campus proves that North Carolina can transform its economy from one based on manufacturing and tobacco to one based on science, biotechnology and research, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue said.
“North Carolina is in the jobs game,” she said. “We intend to own a big chunk of the 21st century new economy, and today is just the beginning.”
The campus could generate 5,500 biotech jobs locally and as many as 37,000 related jobs across the state.
Murdock seemed touched when students from Kannapolis City Schools presented a $3,000 donation to the David H. Murdock Research Institute, the first official donation to the group that will run the Core Lab, other than Murdock’s $150 million.
Hopefully the money, which children collected by holding fundraisers and emptying their piggy banks, will “help find scientific breakthroughs that will change our world forever,” said A.L. Brown High School junior Wesley Ray Honeycutt.