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Regional Business Reports

New academy will train super sleuths
Your office has been burglarized. Do the officers in your local police department know how to preserve all of the evidence? Only in about half of all criminal cases does forensic analysis play a role in successful prosecution. Far too often evidence is lost when it’s contaminated by investigators on the scene.

With a $500,000 grant from Congress, Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte is starting the National Academy for Forensic & Computer Investigation. The academy will offer instruction in general forensics investigations, which is the practice of applying science to law, says Dr. Lili Johnson, a former State Bureau of Investigation agent who is now associate dean of CPCC’s north campus and head of the college’s public safety programs.

Forensic science applies not only to the work of coroners who use scientific means to determine how an individual died, but the term also applies to many fields, such as forensic accountants who uncover white-collar crime, and computer science forensics who investigate cyber-crimes.

Johnson says while there are plenty of professionals working as computer scientists, engineers, nurses, accountants and the like, there’s no institution to train individuals to bridge law enforcement with those areas. “There’s a gap between these two types of expertise,” she says.

Southwestern Community College in Sylva offers a computer science forensics degree program for those entering law enforcement, but CPCC will target seasoned law enforcement officers who need new skills to meet the challenges they face on the job every day.

Starting this month, the academy will offer its first certification program for crime scene technicians. The program consists of 200 hours of training on how to preserve evidence in a crime scene.

As part of this effort, $500,000 has been allocated by North Carolina Sens. John Edwards and Jesse Helms as well as Reps. Sue Myrick and Mel Watt to support teaching methods of investigating cyber-crimes. The appropriation is part of legislation known as “Kristen’s Law,” named for Kristen Modafferi, an N.C. State University student who was last seen during the summer of 1997 in San Francisco.

Beverly Dickson, dean of CPCC’s north campus, which will house the Forensics Academy, says in 2000 some $118 million was spent on computer forensics in the United States, and that number is expected to double by 2004.

“We’re forecasting that the cyber-crimes part of the academy will grow very rapidly,” Dickson says. Within a year, Dickson says she hopes to have a mobile crime scene lab equipped to travel the state and region offering workshops to rural police departments on crime scene investigations and evidence collection.

CPCC is the largest community college in North Carolina, offering more than 70 degree and certification programs.  -- Laura Williams-Tracy

Sara Lee moving Playtex headquarters to the Triad
Sara Lee Intimate Apparel has announced plans to consolidate offices for its three intimate apparel units into one location: Winston-Salem. Playtex Apparel Inc. is moving its headquarters from Stamford, Conn., to Winston-Salem, where Bali Intimates and Hanes Her Way already are based.

“Sara Lee’s portfolio includes some of the strongest brands in the intimate apparel market,” says Charles L. Nesbit Jr., president and CEO of Sara Lee Intimate Apparel. “Bringing them together under one roof will allow us to leverage the best practices across all of our businesses.”

The move will create nearly 300 new positions in North Carolina. Forty positions will come to Winston-Salem to support the Playtex business. About 50 jobs will be eliminated in Stamford.

Also, Sara Lee will close Playtex packaging and distribution centers in Dover, Del., with 385 employees being displaced, and consolidate those operations with its Bali operations in Kings Mountain. About 250 employees will be added in Kings Mountain to handle the additional work.

“This move is consistent with Sara Lee’s reshaping program, which we launched in May 2000 to strengthen the category positions of our leadership brands,” Nesbit says. “This restructuring was a tough business decision, but we are convinced these actions will make all of our brands even stronger participants in a highly competitive and challenging market.”

Design studios and sales showrooms for Playtex, Bali and Liberty Fabrics will remain in New York but will be combined at a single site.

In addition to Playtex, Bali and Hanes Her Way, Sara Lee brands include such recognizable names as Wonderbra, Just My Size and Lovable.

Company officials say the Stamford transition should be complete by May 1, and the Dover plants are expected to shut down by the end of the year.  -- Jim Buice

High Point
Construction begins on hospital's $12 million cancer center
In just a little more than a year, High Point Regional Health System expects to move into a state-of-the-art $12 million Cancer Center.

Officials recently held groundbreaking ceremonies for the center, which will feature a three-story addition to the south end of the Elm Street building. The second and third floors of that building, east of the hospital on the main campus, will be renovated. The combined effort will encompass 37,500 square feet.

The Cancer Center will bring together the hospital’s treatment and support services. “With coordination of treatments in one location, the center will be able to provide an optimal environment for the comfort and convenience of the patients and their families,” says Rick Blake, a vice president at High Point Regional.

Features of the new center include:

An 18-bed inpatient cancer unit with enlarged patient rooms;
A patient/family lounge and a separate family waiting room;
Improved technology, including a three-dimensional imaging system;
A resource area/library;
More offices for physicians;
A meditation room and more rooms for support groups and counseling;
Space for the local hospice;
And a boutique to help patients feel better by looking better.

The Cancer Center is one of six primary service areas at High Point Regional Hospital, the largest component of the health system. The hospital has 368 private beds for medical and surgical patients. — Jim Buice

New ordinance mandates recycling of paper, cardboard
Mecklenburg County is looking to stem the volume of trash into local landfills by requiring businesses that generate the most trash to begin recycling.

Since the start of the new year, businesses that fill up two medium-sized Dumpsters full of trash each week are required to separate office paper and corrugated cardboard. Those that don’t comply face a maximum fine of $2,500.

According to Mecklenburg County officials, 78 percent of the trash generated in the state’s largest county came from businesses last year. The new ordinance affects as many as 6,000 of the county’s 30,000 businesses.

“We hope that having an ordinance will help to build the infrastructure for more recycling in the county,” says Michael Talbert, commercial recycling specialist with the county. Recycling officials selected office paper and corrugated cardboard as the first items to be recycled because there already is a strong market for those materials.

The county does not provide pickup for the recyclables, so businesses must take their paper and cardboard to a county recycling drop-off center or contract with a hauler.

Talbert says the number of county recycling centers has doubled in the past year. To make recycling easier for businesses, the county is looking for business hosts, who will allow the county to place a recycling container on their property. If the host company allows other businesses to drop their recyclables there each week, the county will pick up the containers.

Talbert says that while many communities have ordinances banning cardboard or other recyclables from their landfills, Mecklenburg County had to find another route, because the county’s trash goes to private landfills that the county doesn’t control.

To make sure businesses are complying, Talbert says, the solid waste department has enlisted the help of other county inspectors, including building, zoning and restaurant inspectors to keep an eye out for obvious offenders.

“We’ve really had very little opposition to the new ordinance,” Talbert says. “Everyone seems to understand that recycling is the right thing to do.” -- Laura Williams-Tracy

Davidson County
Officials gain a new vision for economic development
Realizing that the days of continuing to do business the same old way are over, Davidson County officials have decided to do something about it. Davidson Vision, an aggressive business recruitment organization, was created to attract high-tech industry to a county in need of diversification. The group hopes to raise $2.2 million, and county commissioners have agreed to provide $400,000 over the next four years. Lexington, Thomasville and Denton have been asked to contribute to the campaign as well.

Davidson Vision was started by Davidson Progress, a private, nonprofit group of business and community leaders. For the past two years, volunteers from the county and consultants put together a plan that included higher-paying jobs, improved education and training, and a better quality of life.

The key goals for the organization, which is made up of area business executives and government officials, are:

Creating 4,000 jobs over the next four years that pay more than the state average.
Raising $20 million to build a county business park.
Expanding the county’s number of skilled workers by 30 percent.
Working with the schools to place a higher priority on math and science classes — important to preparing students for high-tech jobs.

Davidson Vision’s push to prominence comes at a time when the employment picture is bleak in the county. Davidson had the third-highest unemployment rate in a 10-county region last December. It’s 6.5 percent unemployment rate trailed only Rockingham (7.9) and Montgomery (6.9) counties in the region. Bordering counties such as Forsyth, Randolph and Guilford had unemployment rates in the 4 percent and 5 percent range.

Davidson’s once-stout manufacturing base continues to erode with the layoffs and tough times associated with the furniture and textiles industries. The top two employers in the county are furniture giants Lexington Home Brands and Thomasville Furniture Industries.

Funding, which will be ongoing, will cover planning, and a staff and office, which the organization hopes to have sometime later in the spring. — Jim Buice

Community colleges help mold students for plastics technology
Students from six North Carolina community colleges are reaping benefits from the new Eastern North Carolina Plastics Technology Center in Zebulon, a multi-million dollar facility that opened in January.

The plastics center is a combined effort among the Edgecombe, Johnston, Nash, Wake Technical, Wayne and Wilson Technical community colleges. Through their work at the center, students can complete associate degrees in plastics technology — one of the fastest growing industries in state — using laboratory facilities that are available on site.

 “The plastics industry is a new player in North Carolina’s economy,” says Dr. Stephen Scott, the executive vice president of the North Carolina Community College System. “This cooperative effort will provide experienced workers for this important industry.”

The National Science Foundation has provided an $800,000 grant to develop and promote a curriculum for the center, the first of its type in the state. The facility was kickstarted by the N.C. General Assembly, which provided initial funding of $650,000.

“This project shows how community colleges can work together toward a common goal to provide specialized training for students and save money in the process,” says Rep. Joe Tolson. “It is a win-win development for everyone.”  -- Kevin Brafford

University gains efficiencies by outsourcing its bookstore
Gourmet coffees, desserts and books. It’s a winning combination to the general public, and UNC Wilmington believes the same formula will be profitable on its campus. That’s the message the university delivered when it signed a public-private business agreement with Barnes & Noble College Bookstores that is expected to take effect this spring.

Barnes & Noble College Bookstores, a private company separate from the retail bookseller, was chosen over two other bids when it guaranteed the university an additional revenue stream of $500,000 over the next five years. According to Chancellor James Leutze, this revenue will ensure the university’s ability to maintain or increase student scholarships and to moderate student fee increases needed to expand campus facilities.

The decision to outsource the bookstores come at the expense of 14 full-time university employees, but Dick Scott, the school’s associate vice chancellor for business affairs, says the bigger picture carries a larger impact. “Certainly, at a personal level, no one likes the idea of having to outsource university business operations and lay off current university employees — some of whom have served the university for a number of years,” says Scott.

“However, we need to keep in mind that the operation of a bookstore is an ‘unrelated business enterprise’ not directly linked to the university’s academic mission,” he added. “As such, and as a publicly funded institution, the university has an obligation to provide these services to its students, faculty, and staff in the most cost-effective manner possible.”                         — Kevin Brafford

Biotech start-ups gain another nest to hatch new products
The state’s most recognized region for technology has added another plus to its impressive list of resources with the opening of the Triangle Biotechnology Center in Durham.

The 20,000-square-foot center is billed as a multi-tenant research and development facility ideal for early-stage life sciences companies, according to Dr. Charles E. Hamner, president and CEO of the N.C. Biotechnology Center. It is housed in the historic Clark & Sorrell Building, which originally was an automobile garage dating from the early 1930s and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The project is a unique blend of the historic and the modern with a historically important building housing cutting-edge technology. The center is designed to fill the need for wet-lab space that is especially acute among younger biotech firms in the Triangle.

The interior features a new, modular design that will easily adapt to accommodate the changing needs of individual tenants. Suites are available from 2,000 square feet and up and contain both labs and offices. For more information, contact the N.C. Biotechnology Center at 919-541-9366. — Kevin Brafford

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