ECU recognizes contributions of Golden LEAF Foundation

A new plaque in the Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building celebrates the Golden LEAF Foundation’s long-term commitment and partnership with East Carolina University.

Chancellor Philip Rogers welcomed Scott Hamilton, president and CEO of Golden LEAF, as part of a ceremony Monday to name the first floor of the interdisciplinary research and classroom building in recognition of the foundation.

Chancellor Philip Rogers, right, shakes hands with Scott Hamilton, president and CEO of the Golden LEAF Foundation, after unveiling a plaque naming the first floor of the Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building for the foundation.

Calling the foundation a “treasured ECU partner,” Rogers said, “In so many ways today’s celebration is the perfect opportunity to acknowledge and to recognize the meaningful and transformative work that we do together in this region.”

Rogers said nowhere is that partnership more visible than in the Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building, which is home to the Eastern Region Pharma Center that the foundation helped establish with a $1.9 million grant in 2021.

“We’re standing in a very, very special place, a space that is going to be a launching ground and a catalyst for the great work that we do together through our joint mission which we see in action each and every day in eastern North Carolina,” Rogers said. “This facility really is a dream come true for all of us across eastern North Carolina, especially for those of us at ECU. … It’s an exciting location; it’s an exciting space, but what happens on the inside of this space is what’s most exciting.”

The pharma center and Department of Engineering instructors operate 4,500 square feet of bioprocessing and bioextraction labs on the first floor of the building. They are designed to teach students and current pharmaceutical employees advanced manufacturing techniques and address a need for pharmaceutical workers with four-year college degrees in an area known as the BioPharma Crescent in eastern North Carolina.

More than a dozen pharmaceutical companies with about 10,000 employees are in the five-county crescent region of Pitt, Nash, Edgecombe, Johnston and Wilson counties. Across the state, an estimated 12,000 more pharmaceutical workers will be needed by about 700 life sciences companies in the next three to four years, according to Doug Edgeton, president and CEO of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. Those workers are paid an average annual salary of about $97,000.

“This has been a very good industry and helps our state be recognized globally, and that is very important,” said Edgeton, adding that pharmaceutical companies have an $84 billion annual economic impact on the state.

Hamilton said collaboration with private companies, ECU and the pharma center’s partnering community colleges in the BioPharma Crescent made the foundation’s decision to support the effort an easy one as it offers a clear path for the region’s residents to obtain high-quality jobs without having to leave their homes.

“When people talk to me about what are the components of a good Golden LEAF project, I usually talk about this project,” he said.

Guests look over equipment in one of the labs during a tour of the Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building.

Rogers said the foundation’s work with ECU goes beyond the pharma center. He pointed out Golden LEAF’s support of the ECU Diabetes and Obesity Institute, the Family Medicine Center and the RISE 29 student entrepreneurship program. The foundation’s rural scholarship program supports 84 students who attend ECU. It’s all part of more than $9 million invested in ECU’s efforts to increase economic opportunity in eastern North Carolina.

“In every way, Golden LEAF is a trusted partner,” Rogers said. “They’re a dedicated partner. They’re vital to the efforts of Pirate Nation to transform this region and to transform this state.”

The ECU Board of Trustees approved the naming of the building’s first floor for the Golden LEAF Foundation. After the plaque was unveiled near the front entrance of the building, the ECU, community college and Golden LEAF dignitaries, along with pharmaceutical company representatives and city, county and state officials, toured the pharma center labs and the Manufacturing Capability and Cybersecurity Complex before enjoying a reception on the building’s fourth floor.

The Golden LEAF Foundation is a nonprofit organization established in 1999 to receive a portion of North Carolina’s funding received from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with cigarette manufacturers. For more than 20 years, Golden LEAF has worked to increase economic opportunity in North Carolina’s rural and tobacco-dependent communities through leadership in grantmaking, collaboration, innovation and stewardship as an independent and perpetual foundation.

ECU’s Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building — funded through the $2 billion Connect NC Bond Referendum approved by voters in 2016 — opened in November 2021. The four-story, $90 million structure serves as an interdisciplinary research space for faculty and students in biotechnology, bioprocess engineering, biophysics, environmental engineering, biofuels, plant biology, imaging and sensor development, and environmental biology. The 141,500-square-foot facility features bountiful lab spaces, faculty offices, and meeting and classroom space.