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Research Triangle Park or bust
It was a gloomy, chilly morning—not uncommon for autumn in Cleveland, or any other season in Cleveland, for that matter—when the folks from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center called me up to chat about the expansion of their Research Triangle Park (RTP) offices, which you can read about in Biz booming in biotech hub: North Carolina Biotechnology Center expands headquarters in response to state's continued biotech industry growth, in our October issue.
The voice on the other line, which belonged to E. Norris Tolson, president and CEO of the center, fairly dripped of Southern hospitality. Tolson's friendly drawl instantly injected sunshine into my starkly lit Cleveland office.
"It's a beautiful day here in sunny North Carolina," Tolson boasted, and I didn't doubt it.
As Tolson beckoned me down to visit what has come to be known as the main biotech hub in the country, and walked me through RTP's remarkable history, I considered how the hospitable attitudes of North Carolina's natives may have helped shape the creation of this research mecca.
As related by Tolson, the story of RTP is an object lesson of how citizenship, industry and government can come together and make a marked difference, not just in the lives of everyday citizens, but people around the world. As Tolson says, the word "biotech" was hardly in the vernacular of most North Carolinians in the early 1980s, as the state battled nearly double-digit unemployment and waning opportunities in the textile, agriculture and furniture industries.
It was the efforts of these three disparate parties that paved the way for biotech industry development, job creation and academia-industry collaboration, and birthed RTP as we know it today—a dynamic research region that employs thousands and enables some of the world's top biotechs to impact the lives of patients across the globe. I was particularly impressed to learn of the state legislature's role in funding the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle working together to preserve and expand opportunities in the park every fiscal year.
In our five years of publication, we have often reported on many of the companies who occupy RTP, but Tolson's interview gave me an up-close, in-depth look at the park's creation and the impact his organization has had on the state. I couldn't help but wonder what sort of opportunities could be created if the citizens, industry and lawmakers in struggling states such as my own worked together to replicate North Carolina's success story.
Meanwhile, Tolson wasn't quite ready to turn off his charm.
"Research Triangle Park is home to some of the world's top biotech companies, but we're missing one thing—and that's Amy Swinderman," Tolson teased. "Come on down to North Carolina, Amy. Just let me know when you're coming, and I'll dust off the welcome mat."
You've got a deal, sir. And congrats on your success.