Biotech lab get stamp from state
LUMBERTON - For the better part of a month, officials with Robeson Community College, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, COMtech Park and several prominent farmers in the county held their collective breath awaiting word on Robeson County's future in the biotechnology industry.
On Thursday, they exhaled as RCC President Charles Chrestman received word that the state's Golden LEAF Foundation had rubber-stamped a recommendation from the Community College State Board, making RCC one of the state's six biotechnology training centers. The RCC application was for the lead agricultural biotech center.
"We're elated - we've been treading water since early May, just waiting for a final decision," Chrestman said. "We felt good about the recommendation, but now it's official."
The designation as a biotech training center carries with it a substantial monetary boost. The Golden LEAF Foundation approved more than $500,000 in funding when it made RCC the lead center - $320,000 will be used by RCC to get the training center up and running; $185,950 will be used to renovate space at RCC for a biotech lab.
According to Susan Seymour, the BioNetwork director for Golden LEAF, RCC's biotech center will "develop expertise in animal and plant applications used in medicine, food safety, farming, forestry and much more."
Seymour said North Carolina ranks third in the nation in biomanufacturing.
"Having a pool of trained workers for this industry is one of the critical elements considered when deciding where to locate a biomanufacturing facility," Seymour said.
The Golden LEAF Foundation also approved biotech centers at the following locations:
- N.C. State University will host the BioNetwork Central Learning Center.
- Pitt Community College will host the Bioprocessing Center.
- ForsytheTechnical Community College and Guilford Technical Community College will each host the General Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Center.
- Gaston College will host the Continuing Education and Short Course Development Center.
- Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College will host the Biotech Enterprise Catalyst, Business Incubation and Related BioLinked Industries Center.
The Golden LEAF Foundation on Thursday approved a total of $4.3 million in community college grants for biotechnology centers.
Next for RCC
Chrestman said RCC and its partners in the biotech effort - UNCP, COMtech, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and the eight community colleges that are part of the Southeastern Economic Development Region - will now get to work to find out what their respective roles will be.
"The first step will be to meet later this month with all the lead center representatives to set the groundwork for moving forward," Chrestman said.
High on that list will be an effort by RCC and it partners to hire a director and staff to oversee the efforts of the biotech center.
"We hope we'll be able to tackle that later this summer," Chrestman said.
Chrestman said he applauds the efforts that led to RCC landing a lead biotech training center by both state Sen. David Weinstein and David Stephenson, the local Golden LEAF Foundation board member.
"Those two men did a tremendous job and are a big reason for our success in this effort," Chrestman said. "We are greatly indebted to Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Stephenson for everything they've done.
"The only other thing I can say is that this is a great day for the southeastern region of the state - this will be a big plus for us."