Local researchers brace for job cuts if Congress can't reach deal on fiscal cliff

by: Holly Maynard Updated:


KANNAPOLIS, N.C. - Local researchers are bracing for job cuts if Congress doesn't come to an agreement on the fiscal cliff by the end of the year.

Eyewitness News went inside a lab at the North Carolina Research Campus in the heart of Kannapolis. That's where scientists in the fields of biotechnology and human health are performing their federally funded research. But their grants, and therefore their jobs, could soon be in jeopardy.

In the lab Eyewitness News went into, scientists were figuring out how the compounds in certain edible plants can combat cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

"This is the first time that the resources have been put together in one place to allow us to get those answers," said Mary Ann Lila, the director of the Plants for Human Health Institute.

If Congress can't reach a deal soon on the fiscal cliff, "it's going to be devastating in terms of what the research can accomplish," Lila said.

She said the research campus could face an 8.2 percent cut in funding and that doesn't just mean new grants would be cut. Existing grants would also be scaled back and jobs would be lost.

"I wake up at night. I worry, ‘How am I going to keep employment going for some of my technicians, for some of my research associates,’” Lila said.  

"I'm concerned on many levels," said Kris Krider, the planning director for the city of Kannapolis.

He said the research campus is critical in the city's overall health.

"The success of this will dictate a lot of downtown Kannapolis,” he said.

Cannon Village is right down the street from the campus. It's a quaint and charming district meant for shops and restaurants, but the storefronts are mostly empty. Krider said the city has been working to turn that around, but if the campus loses people, so does downtown.

"All the initiative, all the momentum that we have here, it would be really a tragedy to see that," he said.

Employees at UNCC said they too are bracing for cuts. Right now, researchers are working on about $30 million worth of research a year there, and 80 percent of that is sponsored by the federal government.

The vice chancellor of Research and Economic Development said they would have to scale back on their projects, and it would be even more competitive for them when they vie for grants.

"We'd see fewer opportunities, and the opportunities that were available -- we'd be competing with more people, so it's going to be a tougher era for us," said Dr. Robert Wilhelm.

Wilhelm also said they might have to give some previously awarded money back to the federal government because it wasn't slated to be used until the next few years.