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Southern Technology Opportunities & Challenges

Biotech, nanotech, IT, alternative energy, and other high-tech firms are advancing in the Southern region of the U.S., while still faced with today's economic uncertainties, social and environmental issues, and competition for talent.

Susan Avery (Southern Tech Sites 2008)
Market forces shaping high-tech developments in the Southern states are the same trends affecting technology industries throughout the United States and around the world. Economic uncertainties, social and environmental issues, and global competition for talent as well as markets - combined with an endless demand in all fields for continuous innovation - ensure plenty of opportunities - and challenges - for high-tech ventures everywhere.

In the southern United States most technology clusters are seeing growth, perhaps better than in the rest of the country overall. Nanotechnology continues to pervade every industry, with the major nanotech hubs of Houston, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta, and North Carolina's Research Triangle being joined by new clusters gaining strength in Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, and Florida, plus scattered nano-related activity in all of the other Southern states.

The bioscience industries are seeing employment growth throughout the South, with different industry sectors growing faster in varied locations. Advanced manufacturing is growing throughout the region as well, and demand for information technology services remains high, even in industries that are laying off large numbers of white-collar workers.

One of the hottest R&D fields right now is energy, with even rural areas of the South benefiting from investments in cellulosic ethanol and other bio-energy projects, as well as wind and solar power installations. Meanwhile, research universities, government laboratories, and private companies throughout the South - both startups and large corporations - continue to advance power storage technologies, from large-scale fuel cells to tiny nanoscale batteries.


Multidisciplinary Developments
The boundaries between biotech, nanotech, information technology, and advanced manufacturing are blurring as these fields become increasingly interconnected. Even highly specialized R&D programs now require multidisciplinary teams of researchers, and these programs are proliferating.

In North Carolina alone, there were at least 27 university-based nanotechnology centers and institutes in 2007, according to a report on nanobiotechnology released last year by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, and more have been established since then. The Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, for example, a partnership between the University of North Carolina Greensboro and North Carolina A&T State University, is a new graduate program that will focus on nanobioscience, nanotechnology, and environmental nanoscience. The two institutions are developing the Gateway University Research Park in Greensboro, where a new building for the school is planned.

Also in North Carolina, completion of the David H. Murdock Research Institute, centerpiece of the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) under construction north of Charlotte in Kannapolis, is scheduled for this fall. More than a million square feet of office and laboratory space are planned at the 350-acre campus, which will focus on nutrition, health, and biotech research. David Murdock, owner of Dole Foods Company, is the visionary behind the NCRC, dedicating more than a billion dollars of his own funds to its development.

In Alabama, the Hudson-Alpha Institute for Biotechnology's 270,000-square-foot facility at Huntsville's Cummings Research Park held its formal grand opening in April 2008, but the ribbon-cutting of its Associates Wing, filled to capacity with 12 biotech tenants, had already taken place in November 2007. The institute's research focuses on "personalized medicine," which uses DNA mapping technologies; it recently established the new Genomic Technology Center for Public Health and Food Safety.

Florida continues to attract major bioscience developments. The Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, a non-profit research organization based in Munich that operates 80 specialized research institutes in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, chose Palm Beach County for its first U.S. facility, which will focus on molecular imaging, biosensing, and cellular mechanisms. It will be located on a six-acre site at Florida Atlantic University's MacArthur campus in Jupiter near the new Scripps Florida biomedical research complex, which is nearing completion. The state and county agreed to significant financial incentives to attract both projects.
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