Life Sciences Research Campus Transforms Kannapolis, NC Economy
Turning a shuttered textile plant into a thriving research and development center was a tall order, but the North Carolina Research Campus shows what a little initiative and a lot of cooperation can do.
The campus, a public-private venture, is home to multiple collaborative efforts in the fields of biotechnology, nutrition and health. It has more than 1 million square feet of lab and office space, including the 311,000-square-foot David H. Murdock Research Institute, named for the visionary businessman who bought the property and invested $1.5 billion into renovating it.
It’s already home to facilities for Duke University, the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill, Greensboro and Charlotte campuses, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina A&T State University and Rowan Cabarrus Community College, as well as a growing corps of private companies.
The Murdock Research Institute is a $100 million state-of-the-art facility that brings equipment needed for a variety of disciplines – such as genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, clinical discovery, histochemistry, cell culture and transgenics – under one roof. It includes 80,000 square feet dedicated to specialized labs that house the most sophisticated scientific equipment available.
For Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, the research campus is a place to offer workforce development and skills training for today’s jobs and those that don’t even exist yet, says Dr. Carol Spalding, president.
“We have literally changed from textiles to technology here in the last five years,” Spalding says. “Our building is a biotechnology lab building, where people can study for an associate’ s degree in biotechnology science and do other coursework, but it also provides continuing education for people who want to get into this field.”
By offering that entree, the college can further its mission of providing the labor pool with skilled employees as well as offering remedial education for existing workers.
“We can expand the skills of people who are already here, and help recruit new business by talking to them about their training needs,” she says. “That’s something this college does very well, and is something very complementary to the research-campus mission. We want to raise our population’s aspirations so that they can see themselves in these jobs. It’s futuristic, but it’s happening now – and it’s happening here.”
The campus is home to a growing array of businesses that will be tapping into that worker pool. Companies such as Anatomics, a medical-device company that produces custom-made implants and surgical biomodels for surgeons and hospitals, and others are developing and perfecting devices and techniques in multiple pioneering areas.
And that’s exactly what Murdock had in mind when he began envisioning the property as a way for a decimated textile workforce to reinvent itself, says Lynne Scott Safrit, president of Castle & Cooke LLC, the developer of the campus.
“When he bought this piece of property, it was because he has a great love for the people who worked in the mill, and had a desire to put people back to work,” Safrit says. “He knew the textile jobs were not coming back, and that other jobs were leaving, so he wanted to reeducate the workforce to get them ready for 21st century jobs. The goal was to create a campus that focused on life sciences, one that would give people a chance to get the education and training for jobs that would not go away, and that would mean a better life for themselves and their families.”