Study: Not enough locals for biotech

Cabarrus and Rowan County workers can't compete for the many jobs around the North Carolina Research Campus because of lack of education and lack of opportunities to improve their skills, a new study has found.

Thousands of jobs will soon be available at the Kannapolis biotech complex and related industries, according to the study released this week by Market Street Services. The counties need to radically increase the pace of education and workforce development to ensure that residents have a shot at the jobs.

“Incremental and slow progress is no longer acceptable,” the report stated.

The study was the latest by the Atlanta consulting group on issues surrounding the $1.5 billion biotech campus developed by billionaire David Murdock in collaboration with several N.C. universities.

Murdock has pitched the campus as a way to transform a local economy devastated by the 2003 closure of the Kannapolis textile giant Pillowtex, when more than 4,000 jobs in Cabarrus and Rowan were lost.

Study co-author William Teasley said the campus is moving swiftly, and the public and private sectors need to recognize more needs to be done to enable local residents to vie for jobs.

“The residents are not equipped to take advantage of the jobs,” he said. “They are competing against people from across the state, nation and the world.”

A steering committee that includes the chambers, local school districts, the city of Kannapolis, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and others will work on a plan dealing with issues the study raised.

Jeanie Moore, a committee member and RCCC's continuing education vice president, called the report an honest assessment of the area's needs.

She said it is critical to change the mindset of lifelong community residents who never had to compete for jobs.

While a number of campus positions will require advanced degrees, many related jobs will not. Former mill workers and other residents need to get the appropriate level of training and education to be eligible for these jobs

Here are the numbers at stake, the report stated: by 2032, jobs at and related to the campus will hit 13,616 in Cabarrus and 4,520 in Rowan.

Other findings in the report included:

As of 2006, 22 percent of residents aged 25 or over in Cabarrus and 14 percent in Rowan had a bachelor's degree or higher. That's below the national average, and 25 percentage points behind the average of other biotech communities.

Less than 25 percent of Pillowtex workers took full advantage of RCCC's higher education services and obtained a diploma or associate's degree. “This speaks to the historical culture that does not value education,” the report stated.