Monday’s Washington Post had a front-page story
illustrating the impact that commercialization of science has on
economic development. The story, by reporter Peter Goodman, focuses on
North Carolina, which has staked much of its economic future on the
pharmaceutical and related biotechnology industries. While the
immediate effects of R&D spending are felt by universities and
research institutes, the eventual, full effects can be felt throughout
the economy, and this story gives examples of how that happens.
Goodman first talks about the town of Pittsboro, where until the late 1950s the main employer was
a hosiery company that, like many American textile producers, moved its
manufacturing facilities offshore. In its place — in the same building
as the old hosiery mill — are the production facilities of Biolex
Therapeutics, a company with a patented method for processing a local
aquatic plant called duckweed into peptides used to manufacture drugs
for treating Hepatitis C and B, as well as certain cancers. The company
first opened its Pittsboro facility in 2004, expanded it a year later, and now employs some 90 workers.
article tells how the state of North Carolina created biotech training
courses in its community colleges. The state encourages community
college training of specialized pharmaceutical and biotech workers
statewide in a network
that links its institutions. The Post story tells of a participant in
this program, Regina Whitaker, a high school graduate and
second-generation textile worker, who saw no future in the old
manufacturing jobs. She completed an associate’s degree in
biotechnology at a local community college, and now works as a lab
technician with a biotech start-up in Winston-Salem for more money than
she made in her last textile job.
The article also discusses the
macroeconomic aspects of R&D and other manufacturing case-studies
involving biotechnology and materials science.