05/25/04 — More diverse economy is seen

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More diverse economy is seen

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on May 25, 2004 2:02 PM

KINSTON -- As the state's economy changes, business and political leaders in eastern North Carolina are looking for ways to attract high-tech businesses.

The state's eastern region is making the transition from a predominantly agricultural base to being more diverse, said Tom Greenwood, executive director of N.C.'s Eastern Region. That diversity includes more technology businesses.

The N.C. Eastern Region, which spans 13 counties including Wayne, held an economic development symposium Monday titled "Meeting the Demands of the Changing Economy" at the Global TransPark. Around 150 people including business leaders and other officials attended.

One of the growing businesses is biotechnology. The state is perceived as a worldwide leader, with 165 biotech companies, according to Stephen Burke with the N.C. Biotechnology Center. To bring those kinds of businesses to eastern North Carolina requires a new type of thinking and leadership.

He said the biotech industry deals with many areas, including agriculture, the environment and industry. It can make crops like soybeans, cotton and corn grow better. There is a process called bioprocess engineering where commodities are broken down into other useful sources. For example, sweet potatoes can be used to make dyes and high-fructose syrup.

Although it takes a great deal of time and people to bring biotech companies in, it is "astonishingly fruitful," added Burke.

Representatives from the community college system emphasized the need for people to continue to retrain themselves so they can respond to the new needs of companies.

"Change is at hand and it is going to get more rapid," said Dr. Larry Keen, a vice president in the N.C. Community College System.

He said that community colleges are dedicated to training workers.

"We've got to be even more proactive than we were before," he added.

Several Wayne County officials attended the symposium and said the idea of getting partners in the region together to discuss the changing economy was beneficial.

Joanna Thompson, president of the Wayne County Economic Development Commission, said biotechnology has been on the EDC's agenda for a couple of years, and the county is near Raleigh, Greenville and Wilson, where the research is occurring. Being close by could potentially land a manufacturing plant in Wayne County, she said.

The biotech companies are going to look for skilled workers, and that is where the community college system comes into play. She said the EDC is keeping in tune with the community college curriculum and keeping in close contact with those in the Research Triangle Park and the N.C. Biotechnology Center.

She is also getting ready to attend a BIO 2004 trade show in San Francisco to meet with officials from all over the country and tell them about eastern North Carolina.