Snapshots: 60 Seconds with Ryan Combs, Research Triangle Regional Partnership

Combs, Executive Director at North Carolina's Research Triangle Regional Partnership, discusses foreign direct investment, higher education, and biotech in the region.

By the BF Staff
From the January/February 2021 Issue

Business Facilities: OakLabs, a firm based in Germany that uses AI for drug discovery, is putting its new HQ in the Research Triangle region. What makes the Triangle an attractive destination for FDI?

Research Triangle Regional Partnership
Ryan Combs, Executive Director, Research Triangle Regional Partnership

Ryan Combs: The Research Triangle Region of North Carolina is now home to more than 700 foreign-owned companies. Many factors contribute to the attractiveness of our market, beginning with the access to both talent and technology from our 12 colleges and universities. Our business climate is also ideal; our state corporate tax rate is now just 2.5 percent, and labor costs, construction costs and housing costs are all under the national average. Additionally, our prime location on the center of the east coast is a strong advantage for FDI both in terms of time zone differences with Europe and our ideal proximity to other markets. Finally, our connectivity to the rest of the world makes our region easy and convenient for business travelers. In 2019, Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) was ranked a top-5 best large airport by J.D. Power.

BF: Are North Carolina’s higher education resources playing a major role in expanding the skilled workforce needed for the biotech sector?

RC: The Research Triangle didn’t become one of the top 5 life science hubs in the country just by chance. The triangle has been the beneficiary of consistent, visionary leaders at the state level who understand the importance of investment not only in STEM education and R&D, but also in customized workforce training at our community colleges. In addition to investments in education, our leadership also had the forethought to create both the Research Triangle Park and the North Carolina Biotech Center (NCBiotech), and now, they are investing in new programs to further fill the pipeline. The Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC) at NC State University is an incredible partnership between academia and industry to ensure that biomanufacturers have a pool of highly skilled talent that is up to speed on the latest biomanufacturing technologies.

BF: Is the Triangle getting its share of new business ventures in the growth sector of gene therapy?

RC: Gene and cell therapy is all the buzz in the Triangle Region right now. In the last 18 months alone, we have received over $867 million in investments from cell and gene therapy manufacturers, including Pfizer, Tashya Gene Therapies, Audentes Therapeutics and Beam Therapeutics. Another big announcement came at the end of 2020 with Bayer’s acquisition of the homegrown, Triangle gene therapy company AskBio for $4 billion. Once again, our educated workforce is vitally important to the success of this sector. While R&D companies can access talent from our tier-1 research universities like Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—which is home to the UNC School of Medicine’s Gene Therapy Center—those in the manufacturing stage have the ability to work closely with our eight community colleges to train their workforce to have the specialized skills required of gene & cell therapy manufacturing. The Research Triangle Region has everything a gene & cell therapy company needs to scale and bring its therapies to market and do it quickly.

BF: What incentives programs are available to support biotech startups in the Triangle?

RC: North Carolina offers several targeted, performance-based incentive programs, like its discretionary incentives, which include the Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) and the One North Carolina Fund. Biotech startups also can apply to various loan programs. For example, NCBiotech’s Emerging Company Development (ECD) team administers a loans program designed to help North Carolina-based startup companies fill gaps in technology development, conduct critical studies and reach significant development milestones. Additionally, NCBiotech’s Life Science Economic Development team has an economic development award (EDA), which supports new job creation by bringing together community and industry partners. Another great example is NC IDEA, a private foundation focused on strengthening North Carolina’s economy by helping entrepreneurs start and grow companies. It has several grant programs available, such as NC IDEA SEED, which offers early-stage companies the critical funding they need to scale faster.

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