NC Biotech Center slashes programs, jobs in response to cutbacks

dranii@newsobserver.comAugust 27, 2013 

The N.C. Biotechnology Center is cutting jobs and slashing programs as it deals with a 27 percent cut in the money it receives from the state.

The measures will reduce the nonprofit’s expenses by $4.5 million. Those cuts, plus an additional $100,000 in savings expected from belt-tightening measures such as reducing travel, will match the cut in its annual appropriation from the state, which was reduced from $17.2 million to $12.6 million, spokeswoman Robin Deacle said.

“The 27 percent cut to our budget requires deep cuts and difficult decisions,” Norris Tolson, the center’s president and CEO, said in a statement. The cutbacks take effect Sept. 1.

Deacle said that, as a result of discussions with legislators, the center is preserving the programs that are “more directly invested in job creation,” such as loans to biotech startups and loans of $35,000 to $50,000 for commercializing university technology.

On Tuesday the center laid off seven employees, reducing its staff to 69.

An additional 20 have been offered voluntary buyouts that include a severance package of three months of salary, plus up to two weeks of accrued vacation, Deacle said.

The center doesn’t know how many will accept those buyouts, but 18 employees “have indicated interest,” Deacle said. This second round of staff reductions is expected to be implemented by Sept. 30.

The program cuts include the following:

• Three grant programs in the center’s education and training program are being eliminated. Those grants have gone to public schools and universities across the state, including research fellowships for undergraduate students.

• Cutbacks in research grant programs and trimming or eliminating several community and economic development grant programs that have been doled out to companies, community development groups and universities.

• Among its business development programs, the center is ending the industrial fellowship program that helped startups hire scientists, and it is reducing its small business research loan program.

Awards already made in the programs that are being trimmed or eliminated aren’t affected.

“It is difficult to shutter programs that are significant to our life science community,” Tolson said. “Each of these programs had outstanding success metrics, leveraging additional investment and jobs.”

The cutbacks could have been worse. The budget proposed by Gov. Pat McCrory called for cutting the center’s appropriation by 58 percent, while the Senate considered cutting its funding by half.

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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