The stimulus to consider founding an independent research institute resulted from economic and business forces that both created a problem and presented an opportunity. In 1999 The Dow Chemical Company acquired Union Carbide, a large local employer. Union Carbide, a homegrown West Virginia company that became a world leader in the chemical industry, conducted its research and development in South Charleston. Following the Dow acquisition much of this work was moved to other locations, such as Michigan and Texas. More than 150 doctorate-level researchers and approximately 900 other degreed staff were released in the four years following the merger. Among them were world-class scientists with a wealth of experience in creating new and innovative technologies. The potential for local brain drain was more than a negligible concern. Yet under the creative leadership of Dr. George Keller and many others, this concern generated a vision for MATRIC, a multidisciplinary nonprofit research and development center built on the facilities and intellectual capital available in the geographical area. Strong support was also received from the Business and Industrial Development Corporation (BIDCO), a non-profit economic development corporation serving the Charleston, WV area.
In January 2002, Dow announced to BIDCO’s board of directors that it was opening the former Union Carbide Technical Center facilities to other companies. The park sits in South Charleston, its location since 1949 when the first research laboratory was built. It was this first-rate research facility that brought a number of PhD-level researchers and other highly trained scientists and chemists to the community to develop, test, and commercialize many of the processes that dramatically changed or influenced the petrochemical industry worldwide. The park consists of 650 acres and various facilities from office buildings, laboratories, and pilot plants to sites ready for new construction. Soon after Dow’s announcement in January 2002, Dr. George Keller described to the BIDCO board the Research Triangle Institute (RTI), a private, nonprofit contract research company headquartered in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina. Formed in the late 1950s, RTI today has its own 180- acre campus in the midst of the well established Research Triangle Park. RTI currently employs more than 2500 people and generates revenues of approximately $300 million annually in contract research for clients in government, industry, academia, and public service. RTI and Research Triangle Park were created by local private sector leaders who were concerned about the migration of the best and brightest workers to other states due to the impending demise of the textile industry in the 1950s. Bankers, business leaders, utility company presidents, and leaders in the higher education community consulted with political leaders of the state, created and funded a foundation to provide seed money, and established working groups; and RTI was born. Given the similar situation in the Kanawha Valley, BIDCO leadership believed RTI could be a model for local opportunity. With access to not only a superlative facility but also many of the world-class scientists and technicians who worked there, the initiative began. A team of volunteers from business, scientific, and higher educational communities (ultimately 50 to 60 individuals) was convened. Results from a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis confirmed that a research institute modeled after RTI was indeed feasible in West Virginia. A vision statement was adopted, and a three-year business plan for the new institute was compiled.
Shortly after incorporation in 2003 an impressive board of directors was assembled and officers were designated. Crucial participation from higher education was demonstrated by the commitment of four university presidents to serve on the board and make MATRIC an institutional priority through specific involvement and agreements.
Keith Pauley was hired as CEO in April, 2004, and MATRIC began operations in the BIDCO Building on Smith Street in Charleston, occupying two offices. In January 2005, the move was made to Building 701 at the former Union Carbide Technical Center in South Charleston, which was then owned and operated by Dow Chemical as the South Charleston Technolog Park.
Space in this building leased from Dow Chemical served as MATRIC's headquarters and laboratory location until June, 2007, when Dow vacated the building for demolition. The move was made to Building 740 on the Technology Park campus, where MATRIC is located today.
In December, 2010, much of the technology park was donated by Dow to the State of West Virginia, and the park was renamed the West Virginia Regional Technology Park. MATRIC leases space in Buildings 740 and 770 from the WV Higher Education Policy Commision, the state agency that holds title to the park.
Keith Pauley, MATRIC's first CEO, resigned in 2012 to take a position in the chemical industry in China. After a six-month national search, Steven Hedrick was named as the next CEO, beginning in February 2013. Hedrick has an extensive industry background, most recently as vice president and head of Bayer CropScience’s Institute Industrial Park, located in West Virginia. Additionally, he held previous positions of increasing responsibility at Bayer MaterialScience and Lyondell.
In 2012, MATRIC gained access to the pilot plant facilities in Building 771 and began larger-scale pilot operations made possible by this complex.