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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Build It and They Will Come, North Carolina Style

Last year Boca Raton FL rejected a request for more money to attract the Scripps Institute to the area. The amount of jobs promised did not seem to justify the investment. A previous investment resulted in bringing in high paid lobbyists who came asking for more money! When it comes to biotechnology, the smartest guys in the room are the ones who know where the real money comes from. It comes from investors, philanthropists, and local governments. It flows into the pockets of executives and into ill conceived R&D programs. If you want some of that money you have to stuff yourself somewhere into the flow. The closer you are to the origin of the flow, the more money you will make and the more opportunities you will have at the next site. Lobbyists, lawyers, CEOs, and aspiring businessmen can now look towards Charlotte NC.

The University of North Carolina plans to spend 29 million dollars a year on billionaire David Murdock’s biotech real estate development venture in Kannapolis. That money is on top of the hundreds of millions in local tax subsidies to help build the research campus.

Currently there are not many biotech companies lining up for lab space at the site. So far, only two companies to be exact. Still, to prepare for the coming blizzard of employment, another major component of the Kannapolis project is a training center run by the N.C. Community College system to prepare workers for what Murdock contends will be thousands of new biotech jobs. Let's add up the reality. We have two companies and a promise of thousands of jobs. But wait, there's more. Clyde Higgs, Castle & Cooke’s vice president of business development, said he has received nearly 60 business plans from companies seeking venture capital for business in medical devices, information technology and drug development. Now we have two companies, a promise of thousands of jobs and 60 business plans that need money.

Do biotech business plans generate money are do they take money? In other words, are local governments investing in biotech or are biotech executives investing in local governments? The Cargo Cult Scientist has posted his observations on the emptiness all around the south Lake Union where Paul Allen is trying to create a Northwestern biotech hub. San Diego is crumbling. When will we see a successful biotech hub? When will the planes land? We've built more than a few Cargo Cult Airports. Each one has kept businessmen and government officials gainfully employed. But they keep coming back asking for more money. When will biotech become an asset and not a liability. If the people of North Carolina think biotech will be an immediate asset, they are wrong. It will be a liability. The question isn't about how much they are paying now. The question they need to ask themselves is how much they will be willing to spend in the next ten to 20 years.

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