Eastern North Carolina swells with pharmaceutical development

By   – Staff Writer, Triangle Business Journal

2018 Year in Review: Eastern North Carolina swells with pharmaceutical development

As county economic development officials east of the Triangle roll out their new pitch as the home to pharmaceutical development, existing companies are continuing to double down their investments.

Nearing the end of 2018, Novo Nordisk announced a $22 million expansion of its Clayton facility, which comes on top of a $65 million expansion announced at the start of the year. Both projects are adjacent to the company’s $2 billion expansion in Johnston County, which is set to add 700 employees over the next few years.

Also in Johnston County, Grifols broke ground on a $120 million facility in March, part of $320 million in planned investments by 2022.

Officials in Johnston, Nash, Edgecombe, Wilson and Pitt counties are using the momentum of developments such as these – as well as the area’s 50-year history with pharmaceutical manufacturing – to market the counties as “the biopharma crescent.”

Integral to their pitch is a thriving system of county community colleges with programs tailored to pharma.

Eastern North Carolina’s history with biopharmaceuticals began in 1968, when Burroughs Wellcome located in Pitt County. Now, the region includes Grifols, Novo Nordisk, Merck, Pfizer and Mayne Pharma.

An estimated 10,000 people are employed in pharmaceuticals in the region — more than double the 4,500 people officials estimate are working in agriculture throughout the crescent.

Since 2016, regional economic developers say about $3 billion in investments and commitments have been made by existing companies, all to be realized by 2022.

Wilson County Economic Development Executive Director Jennifer Lantz says, “A lot of companies have expanded in recent years and new companies have come in. But it’s not that we haven’t been working on this all along; it’s that the world doesn’t realize that we’ve been working on it.”