By Ben McNeely
The North Carolina Research Campus is officially open for business.
This proclamation, made by Castle & Cooke North Carolina president Lynne Scott Safrit, was like a starter’s pistol as researchers, educators, political leaders and David Murdock himself dedicated the Core Research Laboratory Monday.
It was a pivotal day in the history of Kannapolis, as the nightmare of the Pillowtex closure, which laid off 4,800 workers, came full circle and changed into a dream of hope for the future — a dream that other cities can only envy.
“Mr. Murdock could have taken this (campus) anywhere in the world,” Kannapolis Mayor Bob Misenheimer said. “But he chose Kannapolis.”
Murdock, himself, was upbeat.
“What you see before you today is the start of a bright future for Kannapolis and, I hope, for the state of North Carolina,” Murdock said. “If you could feel my heart tremble inside my body, you would understand how excited I am.”
Flanked by local, state and national leaders and scientists from the seven UNC system institutions and Duke University, Murdock said in order to “do the impossible, you have to see the invisible.”
“I remember three years ago, we had 6 million square feet of textile mill. Three years ago today, we began seeing the impossible and the invisible,” Murdock said. “We began the creation of a scientific center.”
Not just a scientific center, but a center for innovation that will spin off products that come from the research, said Sen. Fletcher Hartsell.
Hartsell, who has been in on the development of the research campus from the beginning, has called the campus “Project Phoenix” and has divided up the campus into phases.
He said now that the Core Lab is open, this begins Phoenix Phase 4 — where the community gets involved.
“We’ve got to get the community college building built,” Hartsell said. “We had to have university involvement from the beginning. Now it’s time to integrate the community into the process.”
For politicians who have supported the research campus from the beginning, it was a reunion of sorts for some; for others, it was another stop on the campaign trail.
U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes, who is in a tight race with Democratic opponent Larry Kissell, talked about his grandfather, Charles A. Cannon, who oversaw Cannon Mills for more than 50 years.
“I can see him looking down from heaven and saying, ‘Yes!’” Hayes said. “Political parties and politics means nothing when you are creating a future for the young people.”
Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue said “North Carolina will own a large part of the jobs in the 21st Century economy” as her Republican gubernatorial opponent, Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, watched on. Sen. Elizabeth Dole spoke, while her Democratic opponent Sen. Kay Hagan sat on the stage.
For scientific leaders, the ceremony was a charge to commence the work promised during the three years since the campus was announced. Dr. Rob Califf, director of the Duke Translational Medicine Institute and principal investigator of the MURDOCK Study, said the plans for the longitudinal epidemiological study are still under review by Duke’s internal research boards. He said he hopes to start recruiting patients — 50,000 patients — in the next few months.
UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University are moved into their buildings, which opened Monday as well, and will move forward with research projects. The newest academic member, Appalachian State University, is moving to a temporary office at the research campus to start its nutrition and exercise science programs.
UNC president Erskine Bowles said the research campus is the example of a “David Murdock-sized vision” where the good works of education, government and private industry would create “future changes that are dramatically better for all of us.”
“I’m proud of what’s happening here,” Bowles said. “This is a great day for the university and North Carolina.”
• Contact reporter Ben McNeely: 704-789-9131.