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Biotech Center merits more funding, not cut

News & Observer:

Since its creation as the first state-sponsored biotechnology initiative in the country in 1984, the N.C. Biotechnology Center in Research Triangle Park has helped create many high-tech, high-paying jobs by fulfilling its mission of bringing private entrepreneurs together with universities to produce great research and practical results.

The center is almost funded entirely by the state, and in this year’s House budget, it has an appropriation of $13.6 million. That’s a small expense in a $20 billion-plus state budget.

Unfortunately, the state Senate has zeroed the center out of its budget, a curiosity that may reflect a hardline Senate philosophy that the state shouldn’t be helping nonprofits of certain types. It’s a shortsighted view, following “fiscal conservatism” out the window.

But in this case, it’s bad economics, considering what the center delivers with a staff of just 64 people.

Connected to the area of “life sciences,” the center makes modest loans to startup companies that in turn use that seed money to get more investment from private individuals and venture capital firms. The list of companies that have been helped is long, and the state has gotten its money back when those companies have succeeded.

The center’s loan policy is conservative, but the payoff has been impressive. In the last 10 years, the center says it has loaned money to companies that have created nearly 3,000 jobs. The number of jobs connected in some way to the center in the last 30 years is over 200,000.

What’s the Senate’s problem? It appears it might be something minor and worse the result of a misunderstanding.

Recently, a letter was sent out from former Gov. Jim Hunt, an early advocate for the center, rallying people to a political meeting to discuss current issues and, quite possibly, potential Democratic leadership spots and the current Republican-run General Assembly. In the letter, the Biotech Center was listed as the location.

But the center’s president and CEO, Doug Edgeton, knew it wouldn’t be appropriate for a nonprofit funded by the state to serve as a site for such a meeting, and he turned down the meeting without delay. Unfortunately, it appears some Senate Republicans didn’t get the word and may believe the center was the host for the meeting.

Edgeton did the right thing by rejecting a political meeting. The center shouldn’t be in effect put out of business because of a misunderstanding that was no fault of its leaders or anyone connected to it. This organization is valuable, and surely both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate realize that.

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