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Rowan-Cabarrus and community leaders discuss future of college’s role in Kannapolis

KANNAPOLIS — Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s board of directors, staff and faculty recently gathered with North Carolina Research Campus representatives, the mayor of Kannapolis and community members to discuss the future of downtown Kannapolis.

This discussion centered around the North Carolina Research Campus and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s pivotal role in the growth and development of the campus and downtown Kannapolis.

“We are very proud of our relationship with the city of Kannapolis and the North Carolina Research Campus,” said Dr. Carol S. Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. “There are a lot of things happening on the research campus right now. It wasn’t too long ago that we had a visit from Governor Pat McCrory and Luis Guillermo Solís, the president of Costa Rica. This is testimony to the important work you are all doing here.”

Darrell Hinnant, the mayor of Kannapolis, gave an impassioned update on the future of the city and the research campus. Kannapolis recently agreed to purchase most of the downtown properties.

“A lot of things are happening for Kannapolis right now. … We envision downtown Kannapolis to be a mixed-use destination with living, dining and entertainment options. We hired DFI, the company responsible for successfully revitalizing Downtown Durham, to revitalize downtown Kannapolis,” said Mayor Hinnant. “We have also worked with Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to bring their new cosmetology center to downtown Kannapolis and are planning a conference center as part of the new Kannapolis municipal center and police headquarters.”

Clyde Higgs, executive vice president of operations and business development for the North Carolina Research Campus and former Rowan-Cabarrus Community College board of trustees member and former Rowan-Cabarrus Community College Foundation board of directors member, spoke about how companies are not only relocating to the research campus but how the campus is attracting businesses in the metro area to conduct research or partner with other companies located at the campus.

“The vision of the North Carolina Research Campus is to be ground zero for all things nutrition, agriculture and human health,” said Higgs. “If we can keep attracting companies to Kannapoli,s we can be ground zero. We are even seeing lots of economic spillover effect outside of the campus to Kannapolis with companies like PreGel, Gordon Foods and S&D Coffee and Tea choosing the campus to conduct various research.”

Dr. Cory R. Brouwer, director of the Bioinformatics Services Division and associate professor of bioinformatics and genomics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, spoke on the opportunities students have to gain experience at the research campus.

“We have significant participation from our students at UNC Charlotte all year round. Our efforts are about fostering collaboration and interest in nutrition,” said Brouwer. “We have lots of interns, many from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, and they get hands-on experience in bioinformatics and research.”

Dr. Nicholas Gillet, director of the Dole Nutrition Institute, spoke on the importance of Dole’s work at the research campus.

“We are not just a company that sells things; we care about people’s health,” said Gillet. “Beyond education, we do our own research – very cool research that makes it exciting. We are also involved with many collaborative studies here at the research campus. Every one of us has open positions. For every Ph.D., you need a team to support their work. Everyone is recruiting, everyone needs more scientists, and that means more biotechnologists.”

Dr. Mary Ann Lila, director at the Plants for Human Health Institute, was present as well, and spoke on how research is not solely based on nutrition, but on the ways foods can help reduce the symptoms of chronic disease.

“I’ve been impressed with how Kannapolis is willing to support what is clearly a huge asset to the community. The research campus helps economic development for the whole region,” said Spalding. “We can make a difference not just in our community, or in North Carolina, but in the world.”

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