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Local leaders see innovation close by

Lonnie Adamson
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PTRP president thinksdevelopment potential good By Laura Thompson
The Mount Airy News
lthompson@mtairynews.com SALEM FORK - The high-tech lab space and blossoming professional community of Winston-Salem's Piedmont Triad Research Park might seem like a world apart from the deserted manufacturing plants of Surry County. But in time, local officials say, the short drive might be all that stands between local workers and cutting-edge jobs. Government and education leaders from across the county gathered Tuesday night at Shelton Vineyards to hear PTRP President Doug Edgeton describe the park's rapid growth since the early 1990s and its plan to develop into a 5.7 million-square-foot complex offering more than 27,000 jobs. "This area was largely abandoned," Edgeton said, describing the former manufacturing area near the interchange of U.S. 52 and Business 40 where the park now sits. Several of the empty buildings on the site were donated to the park by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., he said, and since then the park has placed a lot of emphasis - and grant money - on retraining former manufacturing workers for the health sciences industry. In addition to providing lab space for public, private and university biotechnology ventures, the park is pushing for economic development in its neighborhood outside the sciences, Edgeton said. Park leaders worked with a local concrete company to clean up their operation and are providing resources to help small businesses develop business plans. The park also has a residential element and is seeking to bring arts and community events to a revitalized downtown neighborhood, he said. Surry County probably is a long way from seeing biotech labs move into its abandoned textile mills. But after hearing Edgeton's overview of the park's past at future, several of the local leaders in attendance expressed hope that Surry could share in the success of research-based industry. Although PTRP developers have made efforts to retrain manufacturing workers for medical technology jobs, there may also be opportunities in the park that draw on the area's manufacturing background. Chris Knopf, Surry's newly appointed assistant county manager for economic development, said he expected some of the new, developing businesses at the park to have manufacturing needs in the future. If that's the case, Surry County workers would be positioned to compete for some higher-level, "cutting-edge" manufacturing jobs, he said. Knopf said he asked Edgeton to speak to local leaders because he knew many people in the area weren't familiar with PTRP. "I was hoping we could get a good sense of what the research park is," he said. "(The park) plays into more of a regional concept," he added. "Anything that's going on in Winston-Salem has the ability to impact us here." Elected officials and staff from Surry's county government and four municipalities meet together with the leaders of all three county school systems once each quarter to talk about local issues. The next meeting will be held in April.

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