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Leland Sets Sights On Life Sciences With Summit

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Jan 31, 2024
Cygnus Technologies, a life sciences firm in Leland, is expected to participate in the town's inaugural Life Science and Medical Technology Summit. (Photo courtesy of Cygnus Technologies)
The town of Leland is planning its inaugural Leland Life Science and Medical Technology Summit, an event that will showcase an industry from which town leaders hope to attract more businesses.

The summit is expected to be held from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. April 4 at the Leland Cultural Arts Center, 1212 Magnolia Village Way.

Life sciences and medical technology are two key sectors identified in the town’s five-year strategic plan as opportunities to attract high-paying, quality local jobs. Planning the event started about three months ago, said Barnes Sutton, Leland’s economic and community development director.

“As we reached out to some of the local businesses and some of the life science community, we realized that there might be an opportunity to really put together a full-day event with networking, trade shows in the beginning, and then a full day of analysts covering their specific area,” Sutton said. “And so that’s kind of what it’s evolved into.”

Sutton’s team investigated life sciences and medical technology industries and targeted many life sciences companies in the town. Officials from Cygnus Technologies, Flow Sciences and MicroSolv Technology Corp. are set to be part of a panel at the summit, Sutton said.

Cygnus moved from a Southport office to a larger complex in Leland last year. The company announced the move in 2021 and finished moving in the summer of 2023, said Christine Dolan, Cygnus’ chief operations officer. MircoSolv and Flow Sciences are both located in Leland Innovation Park.

Cygnus Technologies manufactures, assembles and distributes kits that allow pharmaceutical and biotech companies to detect and identify host cell impurities in biotherapeutics. Flow Sciences and MicroSolv are safety equipment suppliers for laboratories.

Dolan said Sutton and the town’s economic development committee visited Cygnus’ new office in November and approached them with the idea of the industry leaders panel. Cygnus’ representation on the panel has yet to be decided, but it will either be Dolan; Eric Bishop, vice president of research and development; or Gary Cross, vice president of operations.

“We’re quite proud to be here in Leland, and we want to continue to attract talent because we’re growing,” Dolan said.

Cygnus will also have a booth at the summit’s trade show. Sutton said upon registration for the summit, which is open now, registrants can reserve a booth, which allows them to present their company at the networking event and trade show.

Sutton said nonprofits, startups, speculative site builders and budding entrepreneurs are welcome to the trade show. Attracting workforce talent is a large portion of the economic development strategic plan. The plan cites NC TECH’s 2020 State of Technology report, which ranked the state in the top five in the country for technology job growth. Life sciences added the most of every technology category, with a net increase of over 1,300 jobs.

Since moving to Leland, Cygnus has onboarded several new members, Dolan said. She said the company has attracted new hires to Leland from outside the county and state. Cygnus officials hired an operations director from Research Triangle Park, a vice president of operations from Virginia and a head of quality from Rhode Island, she said. The total workforce at Cygnus is 79 employees, with 70 working in the Leland office.

Leland has seen a boom in population growth in the past couple of years. According to the Census Bureau, the town’s population grew by 22% from 2020 to 2022. Business growth in the town has been primarily in residential real estate and retail, Sutton said. He said his team is working on changing Leland’s branding to reflect a town with new businesses, startups and entrepreneurs.

“Having this network of companies here, it will expand our base of those high-paying job opportunities,” Sutton said. “But we also think that it has the potential to attract a demographic that we haven’t quite attracted before.”

Distinguishing the coast’s economic capabilities in tech from that of Research Triangle Park is a common goal among leaders in the Cape Fear region. Wilmington’s Cape Fear Collective started the Tech Talent Collaborative in 2022 with a goal similar to Leland’s life sciences summit: drawing a skilled workforce from Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte and other metros to the coast while upskilling local workers.

Randall Johnson, executive director of the N.C. Biotechnology Center’s Southeastern Office, said company recruitment is a big reason why municipalities organize events such as Leland’s planned summit. However, if the town plans to advertise that it wants more life sciences companies to join the ones already growing in Leland, it has to follow that message up with an available workforce, Johnson said.

Dolan said Cygnus officials were motivated to participate in the summit to draw attention to Leland’s industry potential. She said RTP has been the state’s pharmaceutical and biotechnical hub for years, but Leland can expand due to the amount of undeveloped space for residential and industrial buildings.

Johnson said he would like to see additional life sciences companies move in, either those that specialize in a different area of the supply chain or companies that are clients or complement the existing companies in Leland.

He added that Sutton approached NCBiotech about participating in the summit, but details of the collaboration are yet to be worked out.

“The summit is going to be an opportunity to have those groups in the same room on the same panels,” Sutton said, “talking about what they’re currently working on and where they see the industry going in the next five to 10 years.”

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