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Collaboration and Partnership Will Produce Pharmaceutical Training Powerhouse

Representatives from the N.C. BioNetwork (Maria Pharr), Pitt Community College (Tom Gould), Golden LEAF Foundation (Dan Gerlach) and East Carolina University (Rob Mitchelson), left to right, spoke during today's announcement of a $1.75 million-grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation to create a training center for biomanufacturing and pharmaceuticals.

GREENVILLE—Through Golden LEAF Foundation funding, Pitt Community College and East Carolina University (ECU) will partner to create the East Coast’s finest training center for biomanufacturing and pharmaceuticals.

During a ceremony in uptown Greenville March 2, Dan Gerlach, president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, announced that the Golden LEAF Board of Directors voted unanimously last month to provide $1.75 million – the largest such grant this year – to ECU ($1.1 million) and PCC ($650,000). The funding will be used to establish the Biopharmaceutical Workforce Development and Manufacturing Center of Excellence, with additional support coming from the N.C. Community College System’s NCWorks customized training and BioNetwork initiatives.

Golden LEAF had reserved funding for this purpose earlier, as part of the State of North Carolina’s efforts to encourage Patheon to expand in Greenville. Gov. Pat McCrory announced that expansion (an estimated 488 jobs) in October, but the organization didn’t award funding until Patheon could work with ECU and PCC to establish a program to meet their needs—and those of other companies in the region—with regard to creating new jobs and filling existing vacancies.

The creation of the Biopharmaceutical Workforce Development and Manufacturing Center of Excellence is a model of economic and workforce development collaboration. PCC, ECU, BioNetwork and Pitt County have partnered to develop an educational and training infrastructure that will serve all facets of present training expectations in pharmaceutical services and anticipate future training needs in a variety of life sciences industries.

The biomanufacturing sector is growing in eastern North Carolina. More than 8,000 people are directly employed in pharmaceutical manufacturing in Johnston, Wilson, Nash and Pitt counties. Companies like RTI, which manufactures sterile biomedical devices, are also growing in Pitt County.

"In North Carolina, life science companies and their employees pump approximately $73 billion dollars into the economy, and these companies contributed about half of the net new jobs for the state from 2000 to 2012,” said NCCCS Executive BioNetwork Director Maria Pharr. “The already strong growth in this sector highlights the need for the Biopharmaceutical Workforce Development Center of Excellence, which will provide training and education in many of the core skills required by these industries.

“Hosting this center in eastern North Carolina is a tremendous benefit for local companies, such as Patheon and Mayne Pharma, who also benefit from having Pitt Community College and East Carolina University nearby to provide a qualified workforce pipeline.”

Gerlach says Golden LEAF recognizes the economic and workforce development opportunity at hand and shares the vision of a bright pharmaceutical services future for the region. In a letter to the Pitt County Legislative Delegation, he wrote: “We believe this investment will give assurance not only to a great company like Patheon, but other companies as well, that they will have the capable workforce at all educational levels to allow them to compete globally.”

PCC Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Thomas Gould says Pitt is proud to be a part of the collaboration and looks forward to working with educational and county partners, as well those from business and industry, to build a solid workforce foundation for the future of Pitt County and eastern North Carolina.

“A skilled, talented work force will serve to attract new business and industry to the region and to encourage existing companies to grow and expand,” Gould said, adding that “none of this would be possible without the generous support of the Golden LEAF Foundation.”

ECU Provost Ron Mitchelson has enthusiastically supported pharmaceutical manufacturing development and was a key member of the Patheon recruitment team.

“(Patheon’s) expansion is anticipated to make (its) Greenville, N.C. location the flagship facility within the world's largest (contract development and manufacturing organization), bringing significant jobs and investment to eastern North Carolina,” Mitchelson said.

By partnering with Johnston, Wilson and Nash counties, Pitt County—through the Pitt County Development Commission—aims to firmly establish North Carolina’s pharmaceutical manufacturing cluster in eastern North Carolina.

“This very desirable advanced manufacturing and life sciences cluster is one that many states and countries are trying to develop and recruit,” says Wanda Yuhas, executive director of the Pitt County Development Commission. “We are lucky to have partners like Golden LEAF to support our collaborative local efforts.

“PCC and ECU provided the leadership in seeking these grants, and Golden LEAF was very clear that they wanted to help this cluster flourish.”

Yuhas noted that “different people with different expertise led at various times, and that mutual support, communication and honesty of purpose won the day.”