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Ribbon Cutting at the NCRC

The David H. Murdock Core Lab building sits on what used to be a retention pond. It was next to the old Cannon Mills plant that was later owned by Pillowtex. Gone are the smokestacks bearing the names Cannon and Fieldcrest. In their place are two massive red brick buildings- the hallmarks of any academic campus. The Core Lab building is far from being fully occupied. But its creators are upbeat about the progress there. The building's namesake is the biotech hub's billionaire backer David Murdock. He says to date, he's put about $400 million of his own money into the campus. "The NCRC will be occupied by absolutely the best minds existing anywhere in the world today. We have the most prestigious universities working together," he says. Murdock owns Dole Foods and is also a former stakeholder in Fieldcrest. His wife died of cancer years ago. "I was very devastated when I lost my wife and I thought I would go to work and I would do something about trying to solve some of the problems," says Murdock. Mainly, to find a cure for cancer. It was Murdock's vision about four years ago, to create a 350-acre research hub in Kannapolis that would be dedicated to health and nutrition. It was also hailed as the symbol of a new economy in this mill-town that was devastated by the state's largest mass layoff at Pillowtex in 2003. Six state universities including NC State and UNC Chapel Hill, plus the private Duke University have a presence at the campus. UNC System President Erskine Bowles has lobbied for funding for the universities involved. "Today everyone, no matter who they are, can see with their own eyes the dramatic effect that these facilities will have on the economy of this region, this state and I believe the entire world," says Bowles. So far, the state is allocating about $30 million annually for the those universities and community colleges that are partners in workforce development. Ten companies have committed to the campus. Recruiters have said they're looking to attract 200 companies. Murdock says he's currently talking with officials at 50 firms. Clyde Higgs heads recruitment for the campus. He says the goal of getting two major anchors at the core lab building is now achieved. Outside researcher PPD and soda and snack giant PepsiCo Inc. have signed on. Higgs says, "More important than getting the companies here is also to communicate the vision of the campus. So when we start thinking about nutrition and research, biology, biotechnology, we want people to think about Kannapolis." Outside the core lab building, Debbie Wood is adjusting how she thinks of her hometown. She knows it's no longer a mill town. "When they tore all that down it was kind of sad because it had been there my whole childhood for a really long time and you've got to move on though. Things happen and hopefully this is a good thing for Kannapolis." Wood's sentiments are shared by others in the long line of visitors snaking its way into the main building of the North Carolina Research Campus.