It was a gloomy, chilly morning—not uncommon for autumn inCleveland, or any other season in Cleveland, for that matter—when the folksfrom the North Carolina Biotechnology Center called me up to chat about theexpansion of their Research Triangle Park (RTP) offices, which you can readabout in Biz booming in biotech hub: North Carolina Biotechnology Centerexpands headquarters in response to state's continued biotech industry growth,in our October issue.
The voice on the other line, which belonged to E. NorrisTolson, president and CEO of the center, fairly dripped of Southernhospitality. Tolson's friendly drawl instantly injected sunshine into mystarkly lit Cleveland office.
"It's a beautiful day here in sunny North Carolina," Tolsonboasted, and I didn't doubt it.
As Tolson beckoned me down to visit what hascome to be known as the main biotech hub in the country, and walked me throughRTP's remarkable history, I considered how the hospitable attitudes of NorthCarolina's natives may have helped shape the creation of this research mecca.
As related by Tolson, the story of RTP is an object lessonof how citizenship, industry and government can come together and make a markeddifference, not just in the lives of everyday citizens, but people around theworld. As Tolson says, the word "biotech" was hardly in the vernacular of mostNorth Carolinians in the early 1980s, as the state battled nearly double-digitunemployment and waning opportunities in the textile, agriculture and furnitureindustries.
It was the efforts of these three disparate parties thatpaved the way for biotech industry development, job creation andacademia-industry collaboration, and birthed RTP as we know it today—a dynamicresearch region that employs thousands and enables some of the world's topbiotechs to impact the lives of patients across the globe. I was particularlyimpressed to learn of the state legislature's role in funding the NorthCarolina Biotechnology Center, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisleworking together to preserve and expand opportunities in the park every fiscalyear.
In our five years of publication, we have often reported onmany of the companies who occupy RTP, but Tolson's interview gave me anup-close, in-depth look at the park's creation and the impact his organizationhas had on the state. I couldn't help but wonder what sort of opportunitiescould be created if the citizens, industry and lawmakers in struggling statessuch 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 topbiotech 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 whenyou're coming, and I'll dust off the welcome mat."
You've got a deal, sir. Andcongrats on your success.