Charlotte, NC Biotechnology Industry Generates Innovation, Jobs

Charlotte's bioscience industry is booming. A well-developed transportation infrastructure, deep pool of intellectual capital and cooperative relationship with area universities are attracting companies from all over the world to the region, and allowing homegrown success stories to take root and grow.

Kevin Litwin
On Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - 13:53

A trypsin digest, a bioscience procedure that breaks proteins down into their individual amino acids, traditionally takes between 18 and 24 hours.

The scientists at CEM Corp. in Matthews, a company that pioneered the field of microwave chemistry, can do it in about five minutes.

This kind of innovation is not unusual in the Charlotte region, where the burgeoning health and life sciences sector employs more than 10,000 people. Clusters of established industry names and cutting edge start-ups are brimming with world-class research in the medical device manufacturing, pharmaceutical development and biotechnology fields.

An established pool of intellectual capital, active involvement by area universities and easy transportation access have made the region a hotbed of bioscience development and manufacturing, and many companies have chosen to anchor their work in the Charlotte area.

Prodigy Diabetes Care, whose Charlotte-based parent was ranked the region’s fastest-growing private company by the Charlotte Business Journal, is converting a warehouse four miles from its Charlotte headquarters into a state-of-the-art assembly and manufacturing facility that will allow the company to shift production operations from China and Taiwan to Charlotte.

“The manufacturing facility, along with new products we plan on rolling out in the very near future, will add at least another 150 jobs here,” says Pete Bosak, vice president of public relations at Prodigy Diabetes Care. “We think that as other companies look for creative ways to bring jobs back home, more companies will follow our lead.

While many factors lured Prodigy Diabetes Care to expand its presence in Charlotte, a well-developed transportation infrastructure and highly educated workforce were among the most compelling.

“With all of the universities and colleges in this region, there is a great talent pool to choose from, and universities are open to collaborating with business and industry, which is another benefit,” Bosak says. “Also important is the ability to move product. With Charlotte Douglas Airport right here, along with the highways system, Charlotte makes it easy to do that.”

The region boasts an established culture of partnership to achieve innovation, and the industry’s collegial atmosphere in Charlotte extends beyond the business community to the region’s leading research institutions.

Kannapolis is home to the $1.5 billion North Carolina Research Campus, a one-of-a-kind, 350-acre collaborative community of research universities and private companies focused on advancing the fields of biotechnology, nutrition and health. At UNC Charlotte, the Bioinformatics Research Center offers scientists a $35 million wet-and-dry laboratory in which to explore gene expression, proteomics, microscopy, crystallography and other life science pursuits.

The deep network of resources available to Charlotte’s bioscience industry, along with the academic and commercial infrastructure in place, not only attracts new companies to the area, but also allows homegrown innovators to expand with ease.

CEM, the company performing the super-fast trypsin digests in Matthews, has called the Charlotte USA region home since 1978 when a chemist, an electrical engineer and a mechanical engineer (hence, CEM) decided to go into business.

"We've got people who have been here 25 or 30 years, and we get a lot of organic growth,” says Keller Barnhardt, product manager for CEM’s synthesis division. “This is a huge and growing area that we’re very pleased to be a part of, and even more pleased to see the growth that’s happening around the Charlotte area as a result.” 



Kevin Litwin is the author of Crazy Lucky Dead and a freelance feature writer with a career spanning more than 20 years.