Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Banking on Biotech

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Banking on Biotech

Article excerpt

Winston-Salem, N.C., has long been known as a tobacco and textiles town. For generations, this historic city of approximately 186,000 nestled in the rolling hills of North Carolina's Piedmont region had been at the center of the American tobacco industry as home to the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco company, the maker of the Winston and Salem cigarette brands.

With the American tobacco and textile industries in decline since the 1980s, Winston-Salem has staked its future on a new enterprise -- biological sciences and technology. In making a transition that demands a highly-skilled and educated work force, city and area leaders have turned to one of its longtime educational institutions to play a key role -- Winston-Salem State University, a historically Black university that was founded as an industrial arts training academy.

Recently, local officials announced their intentions to expand the Piedmont Triad Research Park in downtown Winston-Salem by 180 acres. The acreage of the proposed expansion is more than 10 times the size of the current park. The park currently covers a five-block area and includes four multistory buildings, more than 20 tenants, nearly 600 employees and a total annual payroll approaching $25 million. Officials harbor hopes that the expansion will attract innovative companies and spur research and development that will propel Winston-Salem into the top-tier of biotech research and development centers.

"The expanded research park will be a major addition to North Carolina's Biotechnology Corridor," says North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, referring to the group of more than 150 biotech companies already operating in the state.

If the research park expansion proceeds as planned, the campus of Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) will border the park's southern boundaries, and the school will have the opportunity to locate future academic facilities within the park. Officials say that WSSU is expected to have a presence within the park's proposed nonprofit biotechnology research campus. The park's research campus will be anchored by research facilities of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Research at the school of medicine has been the primary driver of the biotech activity in Winston-Salem, according to officials.

WSSU Chancellor Dr. Harold Martin says it's likely WSSU would expand into the research park given that WSSU officials are interested in developing academic programs in biotechnology, molecular biology and pharmacy. …

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