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Published: Jan 18, 2007 12:30 AM
Modified: Jan 18, 2007 05:47 AM

Rivals may steal RTP's thunder
Upstart research parks could take scientists, jobs, capital from Research Triangle Park

At Piedmont Triad Research Park in Winston-Salem, J. Donald deBethizy, president of Targacept, outlines the company's research and products. The Western North Carolina research park is forcing Research Triangle Park to rethink how it presents itself to corporate scouts.
Staff Photo by Robert Willett
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The state will soon have three research campuses. Here's a look at each.


WHERE: Off Interstate 40, between Raleigh and Durham.

HISTORY: Created in 1959 by leaders from government, academia and industry.

ACRES: About 7,000.

WORKERS: About 40,000.


EMPLOYERS: About 260 organizations and companies, including U.S. tech giant IBM, British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, Swedish cell phone maker Sony Ericsson and German chemical giant BASF.


WHERE: Downtown Winston-Salem.

HISTORY: Started in 1994 by leaders from business, academia and government. Taken over by Wake Forest University in 2002. University officials recruited Dr. Anthony Atala from Harvard to bolster the park's biotech research.

ACRES: 230.

WORKERS: About 800, half of them employed by the university.


EMPLOYERS: The biggest are Wake Forest University Health Sciences, home of Atala's laboratories, and Targacept, a publicly traded company that is working on drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia.


WHERE: Kannapolis, about 150 miles southwest of the Triangle, on the site of the former Pillowtex textile mill.

HISTORY: In 2005, David Murdock, billionaire owner of Dole Food and developer Castle & Cooke, pledged about $1 billion of his own money, including $200 million in venture capital, to attract biotech companies researching nutrition and treatments for illnesses such as diabetes. The University of North Carolina System is asking the General Assembly for $26 million this year to pay for its participation in the campus, and has said it expects to ask for $29 million a year by 2010. Murdock has asked for $160 million in local bonds.

ACRES: About 350.

WORKERS: Murdock has projected that the campus could employ 35,000 by 2010.

EMPLOYERS: The site is still under construction but two companies have announced plans to move to the park, one of them moving from Winston-Salem. More than 60 are interested in receiving venture capital funding to start operations at the park.


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Research parks in Kannapolis and Winston-Salem are catching the attention of consultants who help companies pick sites for expansions and relocations.

The rising stars are also causing the gray lady of research parks, Research Triangle Park, to rethink how it presents itself to corporate scouts.

"We'd be stupid if we didn't," said Rick Weddle, chief executive of the Research Triangle Foundation and the park's head salesman.

Weddle and others at the foundation have been meeting with their counterparts in Winston-Salem and Kannapolis to sort out how to market the parks.

RTP could become a gateway for the state, helping steer companies to Kannapolis or Winston-Salem, if those parks are a better fit, Weddle said.

The two newer research parks could nudge the center of gravity of North Carolina's biotech industry west and south. Recruiters for the parks in Kannapolis and Winston-Salem predict the emergence of a new biotechnology corridor, rather than a Research Triangle gateway. They expect to do their own economic development and recruit companies based on each park's respective strengths -- regenerative medicine in Winston-Salem and food and nutritional sciences in Kannapolis.

In any case, cooperation could benefit RTP. The competitive edge of the parks in Kannapolis and Winston-Salem is blunted by size. The two combined would fit into the open acres at Research Triangle Park.

But over the next 10 to 20 years, both parks have the potential to siphon off talent and lure companies that might otherwise choose the Research Triangle area.

The North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis is the brainchild of David Murdock, owner of Dole Food and real estate development company Castle & Cooke. Murdock has said he will spend $1 billion of his own money, including about $200 million in venture capital, to help young companies research products and bring them to market.

Duke University, the University of North Carolina and N.C. State University plan to partner with Murdock, which could send scientists from the Triangle to Kannapolis. In addition, the UNC System will ask the legislature for as much as $29 million a year to help fund operations in Kannapolis.

That kind of financial backing could lure companies to Kannapolis, which is just 30 miles from Charlotte and about 150 from the Triangle.

More than 60 companies have shown interest in Murdock's venture fund, said Clyde Higgs, vice president for business development at Castle & Cooke North Carolina. Applicants that get funding are expected to move their operations to the Kannapolis research park.

Castle & Cooke won't be shy about tapping Murdock's vast network of business contacts. "Mr. Murdock definitely has a Rolodex, and we see that as a benefit," Higgs said.

Winston-Salem's plans

The Piedmont Triad Research Park in Winston-Salem has big money behind it, as well. Wake Forest University took over development in 2002 and plans to spend about $100 million to expand the park over the next 20 years. The university is also recruiting scientists.

Two weeks ago, Dr. Anthony Atala, a urologist who Wake Forest lured from Harvard University in 2003, said he had found a possible alternative to embryonic stem cells.

In April, Atala reported that he had successfully implanted bladder tissue grown in the laboratory using the patients' cells.

Atala's work has already led to the creation of three companies, two of them with operations in Winston-Salem. Wake Forest hopes Atala will help turn the Triad into a hot spot for tissue regeneration.

Companies that use technologies developed at Wake Forest University want to be near the inventors, said Doug Edgeton, chief operating officer of Wake Forest University Health Sciences. The Triad's rail corridor, interstate system and planned FedEx cargo hub would support those companies and others following them.

Although the research parks in Winston-Salem and Kannapolis would compete with Research Triangle Park, the threesome could be good for the state, according to those involved in helping companies decide where to move.

The areas of research that they each pursue will improve North Carolina's recruitment opportunities in the Midwest, Canada and Europe, said John H. Boyd, a site selection consultant in Princeton, N.J.

Boyd helped Stiefel Laboratories, a Florida company specializing in skin-care products, pick the Research Triangle as the home of its dermatology research center a year ago.

"Atala and Murdock expand North Carolina's message," said Jim Fain, the state Commerce secretary. "We have more assets we can talk about" to companies.

Parks attract jobs

The parks themselves are seen as economic boosters.

Successful research parks bolster the local economy, schools and quality of life by attracting good-paying jobs to a region.

Research Triangle Park has probably brought about as many jobs to the area outside its boundaries as it has to companies inside the park, said John Kasarda, director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC-CH.

Without it, Durham probably wouldn't have been on Merck's radar three years ago when the drug maker was looking to build a vaccine manufacturing plant with more than 200 jobs.

Nor is it likely that drug maker Novartis would have picked Holly Springs last year for a flu vaccine plant that is expected to employ 350.

RTP's allure

Even with competition, RTP's attractiveness is not expected to diminish.

"The Research Triangle will remain in the forefront for as long as one cares to project," said Boyd, the site selection consultant.

As for the competition the emerging two parks pose, Kasarda said, "That's good. It keeps each park sharp."

Staff writer Sabine Vollmer can be reached at (919) 829-8992 or
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