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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Building a Relationship with NC State's Centennial campus

On Wednesday, September 30, 2009, I travelled with a group of Hickory Professionals and citizens to NC State's Centennial Campus. I came away from the experience, as I am sure many others did, realizing that it is imperative that we establish a foundational relationship with NC State if we expect to continue hosting jobs in the manufacturing sector. And this community is going to have to get serious about this relationship.

We arrived at the campus around 10:15am and were taken to the Monteith Research Center where we went into a huge conference room. During the opening statement we were told that Catawba County had hosted Centennial campus officials recently to discuss Technologies, Discoveries, and R&D that might be manufactured in Catawba County. The Partnership would possibly be with the Manufacturing Solutions Center on Highway 70 at the old Ryan's Steak House. There could be partnerships, ties, and referrals between the two. There may even be an office on the Centennial Campus. Appalachian State's Millennial Campus could possibly be built in Catawba County because there is no room to build it in Boone. Each University in the UNC system is permitted to build this type of campus and they don't have to be located at that University.

Dennis Kekas gave us an overview of what Centennial campus is all about. NC State has over 33,000 students. The campus was started 25 years ago. The entire college of Engineering, the 4th largest in the nation at 8,400 students, will be brought to the Centennial Campus. The Textile College is currently located on this campus, as well as the College of Veterinary Medicine. There are appropriated buildings paid for by tax payer revenues, University buildings built through the issuance of bonds, suite buildings built through public-private partnerships, and Private Developer buildings that revert back to the University after a number of years.

The Campus encompasses 1,250 acres. The Centennial campus was designed to create exceptions the Umstead Act. The Umstead Act is North Carolina General Statute Legislation that was designed to keep the State from competing unfairly with Private Enterprises. Centennial Campus Ground Rents flow into a trust fund to keep funds perpetuating infrastructure. In 2007, it was ranked the #1 research park in the world, but it is part of the fabric of NC State University. This model focuses on clusters and partnering.

Mr. Kekas went over a lot of technology involved in this campus and its various projects.

Genevieve Garland, Director of Marketing and Business Development, gave us a tour of the Nonwoven Research Center. This was a brief tour where we learned about research into nonwoven textiles being done on the centennial campus. Dan St. Louis stated that this research has a direct impact on what is being done in Catawba county at the Manufacturing Solutions Center. Lab Techs from the State run the machines, but companies bring scientist and technicians and tell them exactly what they want the technicians to do. The Center also helps companies with product development. Nonwovens are generally used in medicine, cosmetics, and hygiene products; but there are other uses such as filters. Companies she mentioned were Exxon, Johnson & Johnson, and Proctor & Gamble. Green, Sustainable, and Reusable materials can be used in all of these products.

Next, we learned about two sectors of the Green Economy that Centennial Campus is working hard to develop with Public-Private Partnerships

Mark Johnson, Professor of Materials Science Engineering, gave a detailed explanation of the smart Grid. There is a direct connection between the University and Long Term Economic Development and Growth. What this program has done is develop people. The problem is connecting energy resources. The Smart Grid updates a century old technology. The current power grids value is over $1 trillion. New technology needs to be injected into an electrical grid that really has changed very little over 100 years.

Currently, the power lines aren't networked to the electrical control station. One of the necessities in creating a more efficient electrical grid is to have the electrical user (House, business, etc.) be able to communicate with the electrical control station. This creates a network multiplier effect, where it is easier to share the electrical power. This is called the FREEDM system (Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management Systems Center). Instead of having a centralized generation system, it will become a distributive (sharing) system. NC State is a National Science Foundation Gen-III Engineering Research Center.

There will be a lot of opportunities in development and manufacturing of these technologies. One of the issues that Dr. Johnson addressed was the fact that energy can't be stored, so we need this interactivity so that the central stations aren't overproducing energy. The result of that overproduction, of course, leads to waste. One of his summations is that electric cars will be used to store energy in their batteries, which will also help efficiency of the power grid. He stated that estimates say we are losing 50% of our generated power. 15% of our energy capital is going to satisfy 1% of time, to keep the system reliable.

Wade Fulghum, North Carolina Solar Center, Program Manager in Economic Development, gave a presentation about Solar Technology. The aim is to increase the deployment of renewable energy towards a sustainable economy. Climate Change is one of the drivers of the economy.

How do energy sources and types compare and what can we do to address these issues. Global demand needs 17 terawatts of new energy by 2020 to maintain the way we are living. Solar can generate 60 terawatts by this time. Mr. Fulghum went over an array of Federal and State credits that have been instituted this year to induce people to use solar. (Solar Center Wins NC Green Business Fund Award).

Tom White, Director of the Economic Development Partnership addressed us about the Economics of the Centennial Campus and the various partnerships that have been created with Private Industry. Mr. White talked about Clusters (and Cluster Development) and stated that they do work. That is what the Centennial campus is based upon. He mentioned Glaxo-Smith-Kline and the Research Triangle Park. He talked about dislocated workers learning new skills.

There is a middle school on the Centennial Campus and these students are performing internships on campus. Those students can take what they learn back to the classroom. He stated that, by in large, kids enter the 6th grade fairly well motivated. They make positive or negative decisions about their personal education before they get to High School.

Deutsche Bank is placing an IT center in Cary and they want to be able to utilize NC State's Brain Power. Credit Suisse and Fidelity Investments already have this kind of relationship with the School. He was talking about thousands of jobs being created. He also stated they are looking into developing Cluster relationships with Pharmaceutical and Biotech companies. A lot of innovation is coming from NC State and companies are buying these start-ups. He stated that Catawba County has all of the institutional mechanisms with the WPCOG and our Community Colleges to create this environment.

Next, we went on a tour of the Biotechnology Training and Education Center (BTEC). We took a tour of the facility and saw how students train using standard practices that they will utilize when they enter the biotech workforce. The facility practices research and development, but does not do actual research and development. Except for the ventilation system, the set up is the same as you would find in modern industry, except on a smaller scale.

Our last presentation of the day was delivered by Buster Knox, Director of the Industrial Extension Services at NC State University. The IES has been in existence since 1955. They want to create an economic impact with businesses in North Carolina. They do a lot of on-site facilitation and demonstration of "Best Practices." Two concepts of manufacturing he mentioned that IES tries to help companies implement are Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma.

Mr. Knox stated that all companies want to achieve better cost, better quality, and better delivery. He stated that companies need to take care of their people and become involved with the community. They are currently doing events called "Manufacturing Matters."

What the Hound learned from this experience. The people at NC State want to partner with us. They want to help us. They seemed very open and enthusiastic about the prospect of facilitating a partnership in this area in any way that they can. Mr. Kekas says we should do a SWOT analysis and figure out how a Cluster Development can work for us.

If we look at this logically, we can see that we have a plethora of options, because of the UNC higher education system. Having the ASU presence helps to efficiently facilitate a lot of options, but we aren't locked into what ASU currently offers. We can look at whomever offers whatever and go from there. I am sure there are graduates of most, if not all, of the Campuses in the UNC system, and all we need to do is reach out and create partnerships that will grow moving forward.

The people that attended these events, evaluated these processes over the following 2 days and I will continue forward with articles about those meetings held at CVCC, last Thursday and Friday, over the next few days.

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