Jim Hunt was governor of North Carolina from 1977 to 1985 and 1993 to 2001. He holds BA and MS degrees from NC State and a law degree from UNC at Chapel Hill. Today Hunt practices law with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice and lives with his wife, Carolyn, on their cattle farm in eastern NC.
How did the hog and tobacco state become a biotech hotbed?
During the early 1980s, I recognized the need to further incorporate technology into NC’s economy. The General Assembly appropriated $6.5 million annually for developing the biotechnology industry. And the North Carolina Biotechnology Center was chartered as a private, non-profit corporation in 1984. The center has helped finance 63 start-up companies, and biotechnology companies have increased from about 10 in 1985 to more than 120 in 2001.
What did you do as governor to attract genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics companies to North Carolina?
During my last two terms, I worked with the Department of Commerce and the Biotechnology Center to recruit NovoNordisk, Bayer, BASF, Teketa, Biogen, Covance, and Aventis to NC. In December of 2000, with the biotechnology center and the universities, I helped establish the North Carolina Genomics and Bioinformatics Consortium. I sit on their board. The organization now has 35 corporations, 14 universities, and 12 service and support organizations that include a supercomputer and several environment and toxicogenomics national laboratories.
What’s in this for the state?
Genomics, bioinformatics, and proteomics will be the main tools utilized by the major industries of NC for new product development: agriculture, forestry, pharmaceuticals, chemical, and environmental. Genomics, bioinformatics, and proteomics will also connect the computing/telecommunications, pharmaceutical, and agricultural chemical industries. This will be a major source of economic growth in the next 10 years through which the state expects to create 100 new companies, 30,000 new jobs, and $1 billion in new investments.
How much money has the state invested in genomics?
The three major research universities will each expend an estimated $250 million on their genomics and related programs over the next 10 years. Other state universities will expend at least $100 million. The state, through the university system and the biotechnology center, will expend at least $5 million per year to coordinate and support joint university and industry activities.
Many other states are also investing significant resources into the field. What sets North Carolina apart?
North Carolina has been in the business of technology development for over 40 years, beginning in the late 1950s with development of the Research Triangle Park — the nation’s largest research park. The state leadership truly understands the importance of providing a business-friendly government and promoting a supportive environment with a complete support infrastructure. In fact, our biotechnology industry support infrastructure is as extensive and comprehensive as anywhere in the world. NC takes pride in the community college workforce training programs with emphasis on biopharmaceutical and chemical technician training, GMP certification programs, and specialty courses in quality assurance and job safety. We have a dedicated workforce, average cost of living, and a wonderful quality of life with ample entertainment of all kinds: beaches, mountains, college and professional sports, performing arts, and great restaurants.
What would you say to a company debating between Cambridge, Mass., and RTP as the location for its genomics start-up company?
We have some of the strongest and most competitive research universities in the world, our workforce training is second to none, and the quality of life is wonderful. They would also have no trouble recruiting top-flight scientists to live and work here. The only complaint we get is that once scientists settle here, they refuse to transfer to other company locations outside of North Carolina!