Now in its 30th year, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center uses taxpayer money in “support of biotechnology research, business, education and strategic policy statewide.”
More specifically, the Biotech Center describes what it does as follows: “We connect the company and university researchers; the funders and the small companies; the job seekers and job providers. We provide funding when few others do.”
The “funding” they mention involves loans to biotech companies and grants for research, often to universities.
According to its website, the Biotech Center was established by the state legislature “as the world’s first government-sponsored biotechnology center.”
As one can conclude from the organization’s description, however, we can see that the Biotech Center does no actual biotech research itself, nor does it create any biotech products. It serves as an informational hub of sorts for North Carolina’s biotech industry, as well as a conduit that receives tax dollars from the state budget and doles them out in research grants and business loans.
The Center’s headquarters remains in the Research Triangle Park, with five regional offices each working toward “building its unique biotechnology blueprint.”
An important distinction to make, of course, is that when the Biotech Center says “we provide funding,” they really mean that taxpayers provide funding. Taxpayers supply the overwhelming majority of revenue to the Center. In spite of such significant government support, the Center is legally organized as a private nonprofit entity.
The Biotech Center receives millions of taxpayer dollars every year. In the last several years, funding has ranged from $19.5 million in FY 2010-11 to $13.6 million for the current fiscal year. And in an all-too common practice among taxpayer-funded nonprofits, the leadership for the Biotech Center is handsomely rewarded.
According the organization’s 2012 IRS documents, CEO Norris Tolson received nearly $300,000 in compensation. Eight other staffers received compensation well above $100,000. Not bad pay for people who don’t do any actual biotech research themselves nor develop any biotech products.
There’s little doubt that the information the Biotech Center provides to those involved in the industry is valuable to those people. But there is no reason the services the Center provides should be considered as a “core function” of state government. Indeed, if the service the Center provides is of value, then the beneficiaries should be the ones to voluntarily pay for the services, instead of taxpayers being forced to subsidize it. Moreover, the Center’s use of taxpayer funds to loan to biotech firms is simply cronyism. Biotech firms seeking funding should do so like the rest of us: find a bank or other lending institution willing to loan them the funds.
After thirty years and tens – if not hundreds – of millions of taxpayer dollars, it is time to end the government gravy train for the NC Biotechnology Center.