UNCP Unveils Plan to Build a Biotechnology Facility


State and local leaders and UNC Pembroke scientists are cooking up a plan to lure the growing biotechnology industry to the region.

The university announced plans Feb. 15 to construct a million dollar bio-processing or fermentation facility at COMtech., a nearby education, research and technology park. The facility would serve both university and commercial researchers and attract manufacturing jobs in the biotechnology industry to the region.

A fermentation lab is used to process cells for use in research and manufacturing of drugs, agricultural and other products. North Carolina now ranks fifth in the nation in biotechnology with 140 companies, and the industry is growing at a rate of 10-15 percent annually.

UNCP Chancellor Allen C. Meadors said the planned research facility is another way the university can assist its students and the region.

"We want to grow this university in every way possible, and we want our graduates to have good jobs right here in the region," Chancellor Allen C. Meadors said. "UNCP has the best undergraduate research program of any public university in the nation, and biotechnology is where jobs are being created."

Attending the day-long conference were representatives of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center (NCBC), education and political leaders from the region. It was hosted by UNCP's Biology and Chemistry departments and the Regional Center for Economic Development.

"UNCP has been in the field of biotechnology for 10 years thanks to $1 million in investments from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, and we are ready to take this most important next step," said Dr. Len Holmes, professor of chemistry. "We have the staff, the students and resources to make this vision a reality."

Dr. Holmes revealed facility concept plans of a 4,800 sq. ft. building that is to be located on a two-acre site. He said a processing facility could be complete within three years of breaking ground and become self-sustaining financially in 5-6 years.

"The main focus of the facility will be the education and training of our undergraduates, but there are many attractive spin-off possibilities with the community colleges and private industry," he said. "It is estimated that demand for biomanufacturing capacity will exceed current supply by a factor of four times by 2005, a recent report by J.P. Morgan Bank concluded."

The COMtech. site, between Lumberton and Pembroke, is already targeted for construction projects by UNCP's Regional Center, Robeson Community College and the Public Schools of Robeson County. Officials praised the idea for its potential to bring jobs to a region hit hard by the decline of textiles and tobacco industries.

  • "The optimism I see and UNC Pembroke will result in something positive," said Paul Wood, industrial developer for the Biotechnology Center.
  • "I think this project is right on the mark by targeting a growing, knowledge-based industry," said Jim Nichols, an industrial developer for the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
  • "We cannot sit here at home and expect industry to come to us," said state Sen. David Weinstein. "Southeast North Carolina must make serious initiatives in technology to transform our regional economy."
  • "Biotechnology is a ray of sunshine for Southeastern North Carolina," said Dr. Scott Ralls, vice president for Economic and Workforce Development for North Carolina's community colleges. "The UNCP fermentations facility promises opportunities for biotechnology development at both the two-year and four-year North Carolina colleges and universities."

The conference, which was attended by 150, was held in UNCP's University Center and hosted by Dr. Jose D'Arruda, chair of the Chemistry and Physics Department.