Brookings Metro event highlights NC's workforce development efforts

The $25 million Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC) grant from the US Economic Development Administration is helping North Carolina’s booming life sciences ecosystem invest in a more diverse talent pipeline, according to a new report unveiled at an event on Tuesday, May 21, 2024.

The report – authored by Brookings Metro, a community economic development-focused group at the nonprofit think tank Brookings Institution – was the topic of the Washington, D.C., event that featured a panel on learnings from the place-based investments of the BBBRC. 

In September 2022, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and its coalition of partners, received a $25 million Phase 2 award from the BBBRC to strengthen North Carolina’s robust life sciences manufacturing workforce, ensuring that this sector continues to thrive. 

“North Carolina has seen a boom in life sciences manufacturing,” said Manju Bhat, dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, Business and Education at Winston-Salem State University, who was on that panel. “We need to double up on the home-grown talent in North Carolina.”

Bhat said the NC coalition, called Accelerate NC – Life Sciences Manufacturing, includes a discrete coalition of six HBCUs, including Winston-Salem State, and one HAIU (University of North Carolina at Pembroke) where a new two-week, free bioprocessing training courses is being offered to help students and community-based enrollees prepare for in-demand entry-level positions in biopharmaceutical manufacturing.

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Manju Bhat of Winston-Salem State, on a panel at the Brookings Metro event.

The HBCU/HAIU Coalition also includes Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, Livingstone College, and Saint Augustine's University. UNC Pembroke was the first to offer the course starting in January, and other coalition members are expected to launch similar trainings throughout 2024.

Brookings Metro also released a case study on the BBBRC experience in North Carolina, called Accelerating equitable growth in North Carolina’s life sciences cluster.

Cecilia Elena Rouse, president of Brookings, opened the event by talking about how the EDA has initiated a “really historic level of investment” in regions around the country that typically are underserved by such government investment dollars, referring to the BBBRC.

Alejandra Castillo, Assistant Secretary of Commerce at the US EDA, keynoted the event and said that BBBRC “has shown a lot of great progress.”

“We wanted to make sure all the stakeholders were around the table,” Castillo said, regarding the early lessons learned from the grant implementation process. “We wanted to make sure we were anchoring it around equity.”
Bhat also reserved some remarks for NCBiotech, which is leading the coalition and is also celebrating its 40th anniversary.

“NCBiotech has four decades of experience” and “is really good at bringing all of us together and learning from each other,” Bhat said. “All you need is lab space, as well as equipment and trained personnel (made possible by BBBRC) and an outlet. We train the students from these communities that we’re targeting. We train our own students as soon as they graduate, and not only do they have a diploma, but they have a (bioprocessing) certificate. And they are now ambassadors to spread the word.”

Bhat said that the starting salary for the available biomanufacturing jobs is upwards of $55,000 per year.

For questions or more information, contact:
Chris Capot
Director, Public Relations Corporate Communications 919-549-8889 | chris_capot@ncbiotech.org

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