North Carolina Life Sciences Ecosystem Continued to Thrive in 2023

In 2023, North Carolina attracted several life sciences investments, continued developing a trained workforce for the growing industry, and won national accolades as a top place to do business.

“2023 was a year of expansion for North Carolina’s life sciences ecosystem with major forward momentum to ensure the state has the necessary infrastructure and engagement to enable its future success,” said Laura Rowley, Ph.D., North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s vice president of life science economic development.

Life sciences investments

North Carolina will gain hundreds of high-paying jobs after several life sciences companies announced major investments in the state in 2023. Among the projects:

  • Eli Lilly and Company will invest $450 million to expand its drug-manufacturing facility in Research Triangle Park, adding at least 100 new jobs in Durham County over the next five years.
  • ProKidney, a late-clinical-stage cellular therapeutics company focused on chronic kidney disease and headquartered in Winston-Salem, announced plans to establish a new biomanufacturing facility in Greensboro, potentially creating up to 330 jobs and investing up to $485 million.
  • Indivior, a global pharmaceutical company based in North Chesterfield, Va., will expand into Raleigh with a $60 million investment in an acquired sterile manufacturing plant over the next five years, adding 35 new jobs. 
  • Mazen Animal Health, an Iowa-based startup company that’s developing corn-based oral vaccines for animals, chose North Carolina as the home for its research and development headquarters. The company leased office, lab and greenhouse space in Research Triangle Park and began hiring R&D staff.

Workforce development

When life sciences companies consider siting a new facility or expanding an existing one, they invariably have one over-riding concern.

“The first question a lot of companies ask is workforce -- where are we going to get the people to fill our jobs?” said Doug Edgeton, president and chief executive officer of NCBiotech.

Fortunately, North Carolina has comprehensive training resources that prepare workers for jobs in the industry, particularly in the fast-growing biopharmaceutical manufacturing sector.

“We have a pipeline, and we work very hard to get students from high schools into the community college certificate programs,” Edgeton said. “I think that is one of the reasons we’ve been so successful.”

The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) continued to contribute to the advancement of workforce development initiatives in North Carolina. NIIMBL bioLOGIC, a new project-based learning program designed to inform, inspire, attract and recruit the next-generation workforce, was offered to students from three North Carolina high schools in 2023. A second NIIMBL-funded program, My Future in Biotech, was piloted in 2023 with 122 students at Southern Lee High School participating.

NCBiotech’s Military Outreach and Veterans Engagement (MOVE) is a statewide program created in 2019 that helps veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses find new careers in life sciences. In 2023 the program helped five recently separated service members gain employment and had six complete job training. The program is positioned for growth as additional life sciences employers welcome military interns.

Accelerate NC

NCBiotech’s engagement and support of workforce development efforts expanded exponentially in 2023 with the formal launch of the U.S. EDA Build Back Better Regional Challenge-funded Accelerate NC - Life Sciences Manufacturing Coalition. The community engagement project has had a statewide impact in its first year.Accelerate NC map

NCGrads2Work connects recent Pitt County high school grads with two days of no cost training at the Pharmaceutical Services Network Training Center. Following training, students interview with local partner pharmaceutical companies. In 2023, 29 students were provided pharmaceutical training and 16 students accepted full time employment offers upon completion. In 2024 and 2025, the program aims to support another 67 students.

The Life Sciences Manufacturing Ambassador Program is a new effort to increase awareness of, and access to, life sciences manufacturing training among under-represented communities in 79 North Carolina counties. In 2023, the program made significant progress to train 250 ambassadors who will share training and job opportunities with members of their local communities. Major milestones include: 

  • established formal partnerships with six community support organizations: Central Pines Regional Council, Flood Mason, MeckEd, N.C. Southeast, N.C. East, and Molding Kids for Success, a foundation of Core Technology Molding Corp.
  • trained 133 ambassadors from 28 North Carolina counties with the support of partners including Pitt Community College, Astellas Gene Therapies, Grifols, Biogen, Eli Lilly, Central Carolina Community College, Alamance Community College, Core Technology Molding Corp. and UNC Pembroke.
  • launched the Accelerate NC Community Platform, an online space that empowers people to learn about making life-saving medicines in North Carolina. The Platform now has more than 250 members. Click here to join the community.

The North Carolina Life Sciences Apprenticeship Consortium, now composed of 13 member companies, worked collaboratively to connect more North Carolinians with biomanufacturing careers. So far, eight apprentices have been hired by several consortium members.

The consortium sponsored enrollment for 129 residents to enroll in BioWork, a certificate program that prepares students for entry-level jobs in biopharmaceutical manufacturing. Ninety percent of participants were from historically underserved populations.

In addition, the consortium hosted a career fair in collaboration with N.C. BioNetwork, the life sciences training initiative of the state’s community college system. Thirteen companies participated, 408 job seekers registered, and 220 registrants attended.

Durham Tech rendering
Rendering of Durham Tech training center.

Finally, two life sciences training programs in the state received significant funding in 2023.

A new training center for biologics manufacturing in Eastern North Carolina received $30 million in state funding. The center will provide customized training and education for life sciences manufacturing across the region. The center will be housed at Wilson Community College. Wilson has a large manufacturing presence including global companies Merck, Fresenius Kabi, and ABEC.

Durham Technical Community College received corporate and public funding for a new life sciences training center. Novo Nordisk gifted $6 million, the largest donation in the school’s history, and Durham County voters approved a bond referendum that will provide $35.2 million to fund construction of the 35,000-square-foot life sciences building.

Business accolades

North Carolina earned wide recognition in 2023 as a favorable place to do business.

The state was named by CNBC, the business news broadcaster, as “America’s Top State for Business” for the second consecutive year.

Career Fair
Career fair at NCBiotech.

“At a time when companies are clamoring for workers while trying to navigate a treacherous economy, no state is meeting their needs more effectively than North Carolina,” wrote CNBC Special Correspondent Scott Cohn, who created the network’s annual competitiveness study of states in 2007. “Business and the economy in the state have been on a tear since the pandemic, and the state has scarcely looked back.”

North Carolina won its third consecutive Prosperity Cup, a ranking from Site Selection magazine which “recognizes the competitiveness of state-level economic development agencies and their success in landing capital investment projects.” The magazine said North Carolina is in the heart of the Southeast, “a region whose states consistently perform well in this and other Site Selection rankings. Georgia ranks second this year in the Prosperity Cup contest, followed by Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.”

Brookings Metro Monitor 2023, a project of the non-profit research group Brookings Institution, ranked two North Carolina metro areas among the best economic performing metros in the country, based on measures of growth, prosperity, and inclusion. Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia was rated No. 3. and Raleigh-Cary No. 4.

A study by Charlotte-based financial services firm Lending Tree ranked three North Carolina metro areas as the best in the nation to start a business. Raleigh ranked first, Charlotte second and Durham third among the nation’s 100 largest metros.

Forbes ranked North Carolina among its top 5 states to start a business in 2024. According to data provided by the list, business survival in the state is 77 percent, which Forbes said suggests a “nurturing and stable environment for startups.” Forbes added that North Carolina has a large labor force and offers an average of more than $22,000 in grants and incentives for small businesses. Overall, North Carolina was deemed a “practical and promising location” for new businesses.

North Carolina’s growing life sciences ecosystem, now totaling over 830 companies, and the support infrastructure for the industry typically figure prominently in these business accolades, said Doug Edgeton.

“We have a large and robust industry,” he said. “Ongoing state investments in scientific research, education, workforce training and technology innovation help North Carolina attract, retain and grow these companies, creating high-paying jobs.”

Barry Teater, NCBiotech Writer
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