Rowan gets ready for NCRC

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Mark Wineka

Kannapolis Citizen

As you might expect, the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission has paid attention to what’s happening in Kannapolis.

Since the September 2005 announcement of David Murdock’s dreams for a $1 billion biotech research campus, the Salisbury-Rowan EDC realized it had to be a player — even though most of the campus itself will lie just beyond the Rowan line in Cabarrus County.

“This project is so big it’s going to be good for all of us,” EDC Executive Director Randy Harrell says.

In that respect, the normal competitive nature of recruiting businesses is taking a back seat to more collaborative efforts with the developers, Castle & amp; Cooke, schools and governments.

“This is a regional project which is good for the entire state,” Harrell says. “It requires collaboration to be successful.”

Soon after Murdock set things in motion for the research campus, Harrell met with Kannapolis City Manager Mike Legg, pledging Rowan County and the EDC’s “support in every way,” Harrell said.

Again, the emphasis was on the campus being a regional project and Rowan’s being a regional player.

Harrell says he has been to numerous other meetings related to the biotech campus. He hopes to have consultant Mac Holladay at Rowan County’s annual Economic Summit in March to discuss the biotech campus’ potential impact and the role Rowan County might play.

“He will tell it like it is,” Harrell says of Holladay, whose Atlanta-based Market Street Services did the SWOT Analysis looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats connected to the campus.

The EDC also established a biotechnology committee, headed by board member Rick Hudson.

The committee has been meeting monthly, trying to strategize some of the best ways Rowan County can prepare for and benefit from the investment and jobs that could come with the campus.

Hudson says Rowan can optimize the commercial, residential and educational benefits of the campus with a good strategy.

“It can be, and I think it will be, a dynamic asset to the area,” Hudson says. “… We can’t just let it happen and catch what spills over.”

Hudson’s committee includes Harrell, Dr. Dane Fisher of Pfeiffer University, Dr. Eddie Smith of Livingstone College, and fellow EDC board members Jeanie Moore, Jack Owens and Raymond Coltrain.

Moore, vice president of continuing education for Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, has been heavily involved with developing programming and workforce development connected to the biotech center.

“The level of effort put out at the community college has been significant,” Hudson said.

Fisher and Smith have strong backgrounds in biotechnology and bioinformatics.

Hudson says the EDC committee wants to serve as a conduit for grant applications related to biotechnology on behalf of Catawba and Livingstone colleges, Pfeiffer University and Rowan-Cabarrus.

Committee members have been working to identify possible grant sources. A collective effort among the local colleges could lend strength to applications, Hudson says.

Hudson sees the EDC as means for bringing a lot of other voices together, including existing businesses and Rowan-Salisbury public schools.

The EDC committee also has investigated the potential for Rowan County’s benefiting from high-speed information connections routed to the research campus and beyond.

Hudson jumped at the chance to chair the EDC’s biotechnology committee after attending a 2005 Harvard University seminar related to science, technology and innovation policy.

Hudson noticed that most of the people attending were from developing countries. But he also learned that the classic definition of a developed country and developing country is becoming blurred because of technology advances, including biotechnology.

He could not shake the sense that a dynamic generation is building in other parts of the world that could leave the United States behind if more isn’t done to “flip the switch” in public schools.

“Middle school is where they have to catch the bug, if they want to get enthusiasm for science and technology,” says Hudson, who has a technical engineering background.

The homegrown populations in Rowan and Cabarrus counties should not be limited to support personnel and technicians at the campus, Hudson says.

If the proper work and resources go into Rowan-Salisbury Schools, there’s no reason local residents can’t be among the scientists doing research in Kannapolis, Hudson says.

When the campus reaches a critical mass in the future, he adds, that’s when today’s primary and middle school students will be coming of age to work in the new Kannapolis.

“What’s happening in Kannapolis is a pretty significant project,” Hudson says, comparing it to the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tenn., during World War II. “You don’t know what it could develop into.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or