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Slow progress prods PPD to depart project

A year ago, Pharmaceutical Product Development Inc. CEO Fred Eshelman couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise for the North Carolina Research Campus, which billionaire David Murdock is developing in Kannapolis. “After meeting with Mr. Murdock and visiting the campus, I realized this project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where industry and academic scientists can freely collaborate to bring innovations in scientific research to market, increasing the length and quality of human life.” To that end, the Wilmington-based drug tester committed to opening an office at the campus that it said would employ as many as 300 within three years.

That was then. As one of Eshelman’s final acts as CEO before settling in as executive chairman, he pulled PPD out of the project. The reason: “Progress in developing, constructing and recruiting tenants to the North Carolina Research Campus has been much slower than we expected,” spokeswoman Sue Ann Pentecost says. “We understand that this is the result of the economic conditions and the global financial crisis.” Key to the decision was a 160,000-square-foot building — or the lack thereof — that PPD was to share with Charlotte-based Carolinas HealthCare System. “Construction of the building we intended to lease has not commenced. As a result, we elected to terminate our lease.” The company later announced it had laid off about 270 workers in North America, including “fewer than 80” at its headquarters, where it employs about 1,800. It blamed the layoffs on reduced demand for its services but maintained that the withdrawal in Kannapolis wasn’t related.

The decision leaves the campus with 17 private companies that have announced plans for operations there. More defections could be coming. Murdock acknowledged earlier this year in an interview with The Salisbury Post that Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo Inc.’s plan to open a 4,000-square-foot lab is “in flux.”

Clyde Higgs, vice president of business development at the campus, wouldn’t directly address PPD’s defection, though he did cite the poor economy for delays. He says recruiting is still progressing, pointing to a recent commitment from Charlotte-based Mallard Creek Polymers Inc. to open a 3,000-square-foot lab. He believes more announcements are forthcoming. Pentecost says PPD is not slamming the door as it departs. “Despite this development, we have informed NCRC that we would like to continue to work closely with them to evaluate ways in which we can participate.”

MAIDENEthan Allen will add more than 300 jobs within three years at its upholstered-furniture factory. The Danbury, Conn.-based manufacturer employs 540 here.

GASTONIA — Portland, Ore.-based Daimler Trucks North America recalled about 115 Freightliner workers — more than 80 at its Gastonia parts plant and warehouse, where it employs 460, and 35 at its Mount Holly assembly plant, bringing its total to 155. It has laid off nearly 2,300 in Gaston County in the last two years.

CHARLOTTEDuke Energy promoted Lynn Good from president of commercial businesses to chief financial officer. She replaces David Hauser, who left to become chairman and CEO of FairPoint Communications, a Queen City telco. Good was CFO of Cincinnati-based Cinergy before its 2006 merger with Duke.

MONROE — County commissioners put Carolinas Medical Center-Union up for sale. The 157-bed hospital, operated by Charlotte-based Carolinas HealthCare System under a lease that expires in 2020, generates little revenue for Union County.

CHARLOTTE — Mac Everett stepped down as interim president of United Way of Central Carolinas (cover story, April). Its board hired the former Wachovia executive last summer after it fired Gloria Pace King amid controversy over her compensation.

CHARLOTTEU.S. Bancorp will add 30-35 employees here by the end of the year, bringing local employment to about 130. The Minneapolis-based financial-services company will base its Southeast corporate-banking group here.

CHARLOTTEDiscoverReady opened a local office with 25 employees and plans to expand to 100 within a year. The New York company analyzes e-mails and electronic documents for law firms and corporate legal departments.

LINCOLNTONCarolina Trust Bank is buying Gastonia-based Carolina Commerce Bank in a stock deal valued at $5.5 million.