The N.C. Biotechnology Center, a nonprofit whose state funding is in jeopardy, is hoping its track record as a “a catalyst” for the state’s life science companies will enable it to survive.
“We don’t create the jobs. The companies create the jobs,” Doug Edgeton, the organization’s president and CEO, said Monday in a meeting with The News & Observer’s editorial board. “We help the companies create the jobs.”
Among the accomplishments the biotech center is highlighting is that, over the past 10 years, the early-stage biotechnology and other life science companies that it has loaned money to have in turn created 2,900 jobs.
Startups across the state that receive biotech center loans raise an average of between $113 and $117 in additional funds for every dollar loaned, “depending on which day you take the measure,” Edgeton said.
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The Senate’s budget plan calls for eliminating all funding for the Biotech Center, which is based in Research Triangle Park and receives the bulk of its funding from the state. The House budget calls for maintaining $13.6 million in funding for the organization. The two chambers have to hash out their differences to come up with a final budget.
The biotech center is in essence a support group for the state’s life science industry. Among other programs, it provides loans to startup companies and grants to universities for biotech research that has commercial potential.
North Carolina’s 600 life science companies – which includes biotechnology, agricultural biotechnology and contract research organizations – employes 61,000 people with an average salary of more than $81,000, according to the center.
Other states and foreign countries are outspending North Carolina as they push to attract and nurture life science companies, Edgeton said. “In this game, we’re competing on a world stage,” he said.
This isn’t the first time the biotech center has been caught in the cross hairs of the state’s budgeting process. The biotech center cut jobs and slashed programs two years ago when its state funding was cut 27 percent. Today it has 64 employees.
Entrepreneur Richard West, who has co-founded four life science companies, accompanied Edgeton Monday and talked up the benefits of the biotech center.
He said his third company, Advanced Liquid Logic, parlayed $500,000 in loans from the biotech center into $60 million in additional funding.
“That $60 million that we raised, we spent,” West said. “That means a few million dollars in taxes to the state came as a result of that, because most of it is in wages. ... And when we sold the company, a few million dollars more went to the state. There’s a real multiplier effect to what the biotech center does.” Advanced Liquid Logic was sold for $96 million in 2013.
The biotech center also received double its money back – about $1 million – because it got stock warrants in conjunction with its loan.
Edgeton said the Biotech Center’s standing with legislators was damaged because of the misperception that the center hosted a political meeting led by former Gov. Jim Hunt and sponsored by Think NC First, a think tank.
“You need to understand this did not happen,” Edgeton said. “We did not allow it to occur. ... It’s what I call the big non-event.”
Last month Hunt sent a letter inviting “a small group of policy experts, stakeholders and thought leaders” to help create an “alternative vision and roadmap” for state leaders. As reported by The News & Observer, the letter stated the meeting was scheduled for June 24 at the Biotech Center.
Edgeton said “a reservation” was made for that date with Biotech Center staff, but he vetoed it after it was brought to his attention and he concluded that it looked political.
“We cannot do political or fund-raising events of any kind in our space,” Edgeton said. “We don’t allow it.” The biotech center does make its conference center available to life science companies and universities.
Hunt confirmed Monday that the meeting was held at an alternate location, and said he wasn’t involved in initially scheduling it at the Biotech Center.
“I trust now the legislature will do the right thing by the Biotech Center,” Hunt said. “The biotech center historically has been strongly supported by Democrats and Republicans and surely that will continue now.”
The biotech center was created in 1984, when Hunt, a Democrat, was governor. Today, Gov. Pat McCrory is a Republican and the GOP holds a majority in both the House and Senate.