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.
The 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.