What’s the deal with everyone wanting a biotech center?

Disclaimer: This thoughts are mine, and mine alone. Don’t go busting Ed Kitchen’s chops because of me. I’m just sharing what I remember and my thoughts on the topic. And on with the show.
I’ve asked this question a number of times but no one can ever give me a straight answer. It wasn’t but a few months back that City Manager Ed Kitchen (this was right before he retired from his position) gave a talk at an ActionGreensboro Groundbreaker’s meeting. In it, he asked a similar question:
Why is the Triad looking towards biotech?


Now don’t get me wrong (nor Ed for that matter). I believe that the fledgling biotech corporations in the Triad have great products as well as great processes/procedures to offer. But trying to establish our Triad as the biotech middle of the world is ridiculous. Why is this?
My father is the CTO of a well established medical instruments corporation. Being such, I have been hearing about biotechnology for about as long as I can remember until my ears instantly bleed when the subject is mentioned. Large cities such as Denver and Seattle have been establishing themselves in biotech positions since the mid-1990s. Even the RTP area has a large biotech center with some well established firms residing there.
Competition with such cities is terribly futile. They bring in more capital, have more population, and not to mention rank higher in the Forbes’ “Places to be for Singles” category. So why are we trying to compete?
I have no friggin’ clue. Someone, somewhere got the bright idea that we could do it with our biotech firms in the Triad. So we keep pushing for it and we keep losing. Everyone loves the story of David versus Goliath, but in a betting world, the odds on David winning are about 100 to 1.
So what’s the solution? Don’t ask me. I’m not in biotech. If I was, I would probably look to establishing a niche market and surround myself with similar corporations to bolster the regional strength. In my opinion, forget a general biotech center. Believe it or not, there are plenty of businesses in North Carolina that I didn’t even know had their roots here. Playing the general biotech game is like hoping for a royal flush on the river card.

  • Jeff Martin

    Ben, once more you offer an non-nuanced view of a situation. Perhaps age will give you more wisdom. You are, however, to be credited for your efforts so far.
    The biotech effort is an outgrowth of existing industry and the community college curriculums which support them. Burlington is chock full of biotech industries. There is a thriving company in Liberty, Gen Trak, which has received zero publicity. The process of nurturing this sector will only strengthen. It is not an all or none issue.

  • Jeff Martin

    Ben, once more you offer an non-nuanced view of a situation. Perhaps age will give you more wisdom. You are, however, to be credited for your efforts so far.
    The biotech effort is an outgrowth of existing industry and the community college curriculums which support them. Burlington is chock full of biotech industries. There is a thriving company in Liberty, Gen Trak, which has received zero publicity. The process of nurturing this sector will only strengthen. It is not an all or none issue.

  • Ben, I agree with Jeff, this is not a zero sum game. You say we “keep losing.” How so?

  • Ben, I agree with Jeff, this is not a zero sum game. You say we “keep losing.” How so?

  • Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the biotech industry, of which both of you have pointed out. My issue is probably with the political play of trying to turn the Triad into the center of biotech. That’s a long shot.
    I’ve heard a couple talks, and some from !dealliance of W-S that have basically that say they want to become that.
    I just don’t see it. Again, it has nothing to do with the businesses, it has to do with how it’s being sold to the rest of the world.

  • darkmoon

    Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the biotech industry, of which both of you have pointed out. My issue is probably with the political play of trying to turn the Triad into the center of biotech. That’s a long shot.
    I’ve heard a couple talks, and some from !dealliance of W-S that have basically that say they want to become that.
    I just don’t see it. Again, it has nothing to do with the businesses, it has to do with how it’s being sold to the rest of the world.

  • Oh. I didn’t even mention the “losing” part. Losing = building biotech research parks. Some other city builds a bigger one and houses more well-known firms. Then you go and renovate. Bigger city still has a better facility. It’s a silly game.
    Why compare. Play the ace card of entrepeneurship instead. Play it as a small business grower. An area that molds the genius of small biotech.
    It’s all about how you sell your area. I just don’t think our area politics is selling it correctly.

  • darkmoon

    Oh. I didn’t even mention the “losing” part. Losing = building biotech research parks. Some other city builds a bigger one and houses more well-known firms. Then you go and renovate. Bigger city still has a better facility. It’s a silly game.
    Why compare. Play the ace card of entrepeneurship instead. Play it as a small business grower. An area that molds the genius of small biotech.
    It’s all about how you sell your area. I just don’t think our area politics is selling it correctly.

  • Ah, now I see your point, Ben. It makes sense. I guess one of the reasons we may see these efforts is because it is a public way for governments to get in the game. It may indeed make little competitive sense (especially since what it all really comes down to is real estate development). It would be a lot less glamorous, if not more productive, for governments to do the quite work that spurs homegrown entrepreneurial endeavors, lowering taxes, educating the work force, etc.

  • Ah, now I see your point, Ben. It makes sense. I guess one of the reasons we may see these efforts is because it is a public way for governments to get in the game. It may indeed make little competitive sense (especially since what it all really comes down to is real estate development). It would be a lot less glamorous, if not more productive, for governments to do the quite work that spurs homegrown entrepreneurial endeavors, lowering taxes, educating the work force, etc.

  • Yeah. Nothing against local corporate industry at all. I applaude that we’re so feverish with all sorts of other technologies to try to replace the dying textile/manufacturing. I believe it’s mainly bandwagoning.
    There are two things in this world that need to change when it comes to technology. First is the management where they have to understand the technology. Second is sales, where they have to understand the technology also. Don’t play this stupid game of glamour shots. If I understand the South, it’s hard work and hard play. None of this trying to get on the coattails of someone else and hope that there are some scraps left over. Might not be glamorous, but it’s a living.

  • darkmoon

    Yeah. Nothing against local corporate industry at all. I applaude that we’re so feverish with all sorts of other technologies to try to replace the dying textile/manufacturing. I believe it’s mainly bandwagoning.
    There are two things in this world that need to change when it comes to technology. First is the management where they have to understand the technology. Second is sales, where they have to understand the technology also. Don’t play this stupid game of glamour shots. If I understand the South, it’s hard work and hard play. None of this trying to get on the coattails of someone else and hope that there are some scraps left over. Might not be glamorous, but it’s a living.

  • Mr. Sun

    Believe.

  • Mr. Sun

    Believe.

  • Well played Mr. Sun.
    But it still doesn’t say anything for the corporate arena. Comparing academia and corporate is like comparing apples and oranges. WFUBMC has one of best private medical educational programs on this side of the Appalachians. Heck, I’d probably compare it up there with Duke Medical.
    But that article still doesn’t show me how Piedmont Triad Research Park is going to come anywhere close to the likes of this.

  • darkmoon

    Well played Mr. Sun.
    But it still doesn’t say anything for the corporate arena. Comparing academia and corporate is like comparing apples and oranges. WFUBMC has one of best private medical educational programs on this side of the Appalachians. Heck, I’d probably compare it up there with Duke Medical.
    But that article still doesn’t show me how Piedmont Triad Research Park is going to come anywhere close to the likes of this.

  • Mr. Sun

    Behold.

  • Mr. Sun

    Behold.

  • Show me another B! One company doesn’t make a biotech center.
    While I love the look of that series A funding, you need a bit more to qualify the Triad as the middle of bio-Earth. Anything already established, and non-youngster? I suppose Banner Pharmacaps works, but any others?
    Mr. Sun, I’ll take door number THREE!

  • darkmoon

    Show me another B! One company doesn’t make a biotech center.
    While I love the look of that series A funding, you need a bit more to qualify the Triad as the middle of bio-Earth. Anything already established, and non-youngster? I suppose Banner Pharmacaps works, but any others?
    Mr. Sun, I’ll take door number THREE!

  • Mr. Sun

    Ben — Seriously, it’s a smart play. North Carolina’s success in biotech is stunning, and makes me very proud. You are new here, but I can remember when the Research Triangle was a gleam in Jim Hunt’s eyes. For me, and maybe some others, it’s like the moon mission or Babe Ruth’s called home run — something wonderful that we actually made happen. The Triad would be foolish not to hitch a few wagons to this shooting star, particularly given the large number of fine educational institutions in the area. It’s already happening.

  • Mr. Sun

    Ben — Seriously, it’s a smart play. North Carolina’s success in biotech is stunning, and makes me very proud. You are new here, but I can remember when the Research Triangle was a gleam in Jim Hunt’s eyes. For me, and maybe some others, it’s like the moon mission or Babe Ruth’s called home run — something wonderful that we actually made happen. The Triad would be foolish not to hitch a few wagons to this shooting star, particularly given the large number of fine educational institutions in the area. It’s already happening.

  • Ben, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Mr. Sun points to RTP but he forgets that the ENTIRE state of North Carolina paid dearly in the form of tax dollars to make RTP what it is today. I remember when RTP was a farm and Raleigh had a race track downtown and the bypass ended half way around the North Side of town forcing all traffic North, South, East, and West to drive through the middle of town right past the State Capitol Building. I made many a Tractor-trailer trip through downtown Raleigh back when Greensboro was a far bigger city than Raleigh. Sure RTP has been great for R-DU but the rest of the state got screwed and I don’t see anyone outside of Guilford County lining up to pay for OUR research park. RTP had no one to compete with back when it was built, but now Greensboro is competing with every mid size city in the entire nation. I bet you won’t find any professional gamblers who would make that bet.

  • Ben, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Mr. Sun points to RTP but he forgets that the ENTIRE state of North Carolina paid dearly in the form of tax dollars to make RTP what it is today. I remember when RTP was a farm and Raleigh had a race track downtown and the bypass ended half way around the North Side of town forcing all traffic North, South, East, and West to drive through the middle of town right past the State Capitol Building. I made many a Tractor-trailer trip through downtown Raleigh back when Greensboro was a far bigger city than Raleigh. Sure RTP has been great for R-DU but the rest of the state got screwed and I don’t see anyone outside of Guilford County lining up to pay for OUR research park. RTP had no one to compete with back when it was built, but now Greensboro is competing with every mid size city in the entire nation. I bet you won’t find any professional gamblers who would make that bet.

  • Mr. Sun

    Billy — I don’t know if you are being more selfish or foolish. I don’t begrudge one penny of my investment in the RTP, even though its primary benefit was 90 miles down the road. Now is the time when the Triad can reap the benefit of our investment in the RTP. The fourth largest biotech industry in the nation is our neighbor; FedEx and Dell are building large plants; there are a large number of well-respected research driven universities in the area — not only would a gambler take that bet, any fool would. I would.

  • Mr. Sun

    Billy — I don’t know if you are being more selfish or foolish. I don’t begrudge one penny of my investment in the RTP, even though its primary benefit was 90 miles down the road. Now is the time when the Triad can reap the benefit of our investment in the RTP. The fourth largest biotech industry in the nation is our neighbor; FedEx and Dell are building large plants; there are a large number of well-respected research driven universities in the area — not only would a gambler take that bet, any fool would. I would.

  • While I like Mr. Sun’s optimism, in my own fight for open-source, the largest supporters happen to be our neighbor (RedHat and IBM). You think the Triad is playing off that at all? Nope. Forgive my cynicism.
    I love this city and community. I see the potential but potential doesn’t always cut it.
    I’ll keep my eye on Tengion. With some of the calls Mr. Sun made, I have to say that the clouds are a bit less heavy around my eyes. Unfortunately issue still remains. Why are we trying to be the building biotech centers and tryin to be the MIDDLE of the world? Building the centers are great, having the industry is wonderful. Trying to be the center of the world is not so fine.
    The question remains.

  • darkmoon

    While I like Mr. Sun’s optimism, in my own fight for open-source, the largest supporters happen to be our neighbor (RedHat and IBM). You think the Triad is playing off that at all? Nope. Forgive my cynicism.
    I love this city and community. I see the potential but potential doesn’t always cut it.
    I’ll keep my eye on Tengion. With some of the calls Mr. Sun made, I have to say that the clouds are a bit less heavy around my eyes. Unfortunately issue still remains. Why are we trying to be the building biotech centers and tryin to be the MIDDLE of the world? Building the centers are great, having the industry is wonderful. Trying to be the center of the world is not so fine.
    The question remains.