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City of Kannapolis

Case Study

The Client

The City of Kannapolis is a city of 43,000 located along the I-85 corridor northeast of Charlotte. In the 20th century, Kannapolis was home to Cannon Mills, the largest manufacturer of textiles in the world. At its peak, the mill employed almost 25,000 people. Today, the 350-acre North Carolina Research Campus sits on the former Cannon Mills site in downtown Kannapolis.

The Challenge

The model mill town of Kannapolis was built around the mill in 1908 growing to include 1,600 houses for employees, a YMCA, movie theater, daycare center and hospital. The village of Kannapolis continued to grow eventually incorporating as a city in 1984. However, in the 1990s, textiles jobs began moving abroad to foreign markets and the Cannon Mills Company was sold to Fieldcrest Mills. In 1997, the mill was bought by Pillowtex Corporation.

Bankrupt, Pillowtex closed on July 30, 2003. The closure was the single largest one-day layoff in North Carolina history displacing 7,650 people nationwide, more than 4,000 of whom lived in Kannapolis and the surrounding counties. Unaware of the pending demise of Pillowtex, the employees, city and state officials were devastated to learn that the company was closing.

The Strategy

Walker Marketing immediately stepped in to assist the city in crisis communications and craft a plan to market the vacant space and attract new jobs.

Walker convened key business stake holders in the region to participate in a business development forum as a pivotal step toward the resurgence of economic development. An economic development plan was developed to attract and acquire a buyer for the bankrupt company. Strategies included financial and tax incentives designed to engage the Bankruptcy Trustee, and in 2004, visionary David Murdock, purchased the former mill site at auction. Within a year, Murdock announced plans to build a $1.5 billion scientific and economic revitalization project called the North Carolina Research Campus. In collaboration with the State of North Carolina and City of Kannapolis, Murdock committed to building one of the nation’s largest and most advanced biotechnology centers.


Walker Marketing developed and implemented a national and statewide public relations and awareness campaign to bring attention to Murdock’s plan to develop a world class biotechnology campus. This effort included an economic development campaign that included ads in key industry trade journals, a website and video conveying the vision for the project. To further support outreach, government relations efforts were targeted to both state and private universities with an invitation to become partners in this great economic development venture.

The Result

Since 2005, the North Carolina Research Campus has expanded to include renowned universities, business partners and more than $26 million in federal research grants. The campus is home to the David H. Murdock Core Laboratory, the Plants for Human Health Institute, the Nutrition Research Institute, the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College Biotechnology Training Center and the LabCorp Biorepository. Future plans for the campus include additional lab, medical and office space, a conference center, wellness center, retail and housing.

Murdock’s vision had become reality with the $170 million, 311,000-square-foot David H. Murdock Core Laboratory Building, which features specialized laboratories housing the most sophisticated scientific equipment available. Upon its groundbreaking in 2008, Walker Marketing garnered national coverage on national network television and print outlets as well as key economic development publications, ensuring all eyes were on the city during this critical time.

Recognizing the benefits of the world class laboratory space, eight leading research universities, including Universities of N.C. Chapel Hill, Charlotte, and Greensboro, Duke University, N.C. Central University, N.C. State University, N.C. A&T State University and Appalachian State University, set up schools to take advantage of the state-of-the-art-equipment at the David H. Murdock Research Institute and investigate and commercialize new discoveries in biotechnology.

In November 2011, The City of Kannapolis and the North Carolina Research Campus became recipients of Governor Perdue’s 2011 Innovative Small Business Community Award. With the potential to generate over 5,000 jobs, the North Carolina Research Campus is changing the face of Kannapolis and the regional economy. Researchers are already making significant contributions in the areas of health and nutrition and the many partnerships created have laid a foundation for sustainable growth and job creation for generations to come.