First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON - The grand opening of the new BioAg Center at Robeson Community College on Monday was not the typical affair. There was no line-up of dignitaries to cut a ribbon nor were there tours of the center.
RCC President Charles Chrestman told the audience of about 100 politicians, educators and business leaders that the center's novel opening matches it's mission. The BioAg Center will be a kind of educational road show, traveling wherever it is needed to provide training to attract new agriculture biotechnology businesses to the state.
“There really is no facility here,” Chrestman said. “Our staff is going to be on the road a lot working with farmers and businesses to help provide a trained and qualified workforce to take us into the future.”
Chrestman added that RCC will partner in the biotech effort with The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and the Carolina Commerce and Technology Park.
“Folks, RCC is on the move,” U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre said. “You all are on the cutting edge and you're being upheld as a national example, showing us what can happen when people work together to make this county, this state and even this country a better place.”
The center was made possible by a $500,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation. The money will be used to help develop expertise in animal and plant applications in medicine, food safety, farming and forestry. RCC is one of the state’s six biotechnology training centers in the state.
“The opening of this BioAg Center marks a bright new day for agriculture in North Carolina,” said Leslie Alexandre, president of the state Biotechnology Center. “This resource will teach the minds and train the hands of those that will transform traditional agriculture. It will make North Carolina more competitive in the global economy and help create new products and new jobs here at home. It is a smart investment in our future.”
Alexandre said that North Carolina is third-largest in the nation in biotechnology. There are about 160 companies in North Carolina working in biotechnology. The industry has created about 19,000 jobs in a few years.
Speaker after speaker at Monday's event hoped the same kind of progress will be seen in the region.
“This is a great day for Robeson County and Southeastern North Carolina,” state Sen. David Weinstein said. “This center is going to help us get a biotech industry that pays a decent salary and decent benefits that is going to allow us to keep our children here so they don't have to leave home to get a decent job.”
Martin Lancaster, president of the state Community College System, called the center one of the greatest assets in the state. But Lancaster also urged the state to provide money to sustain the project. He said the initial $4.3 million investment by the Golden Leaf Foundation for the statewide project was only to get it off the ground.
“This is too important to allow it to founder in its infancy,” Lancaster said.
The other biotech centers are: N.C. State University, hosting the BioNetwork Central Learning Center; Pitt Community College, hosting the Bioprocessing Center; Forsythe Technical Community College and Guilford Technical Community College, hosting the General Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Center; Gaston College, hosting the Continuing Education and Short Course Development Center; and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, hosting the Biotech Enterprise Catalyst, Business Incubation and Related BioLinked Industries Center.