‘Grow Local’ Seeks to Enhance Career Pipeline for Pitt County Students, Employers

Pitt County hosts a vibrant life sciences community constantly in need of new employees. But it’s hard for young students to plan a career in, say, pharmaceutical manufacturing, if they’ve never heard about it.

That’s why the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce brought together local companies, economic development leaders and the schools in 2018 to create “Grow Local,” a no-cost business/educator initiative to introduce, involve, inspire and invest in the future of the Pitt County community and workforce for all industries, including life sciences.

Mark Phillips talks to Grow Local group.
Mark Phillips discusses pharma manufacturing careers with Grow Local students
from North Pitt High School. 
—Photo by Lauren Phillips, Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce

This year’s Grow Local program, held March 27-31, was announced by the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce in partnership with Catalent, the Greenville-ENC AlliancePitt County Economic Development, and Pitt County Schools. Since 2018, the program has matched more than 12,000 middle and high school students with a career experience.

“Early exposure to career options is an essential component to preparing students for the workforce of the future,” said Trent McGee, president and CEO of the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce. “Through a collaborative approach, Grow Local brings to light several career pathways available in Pitt County, provides students with the opportunity to experience an actual career and connects businesses to future employees–all of which will assist with talent retention and reinforce economic opportunities within Pitt County.”

Nearly 90 local businesses make those experiences possible, along with Pitt County Schools and the Pitt County Educational Foundation. From business tours, conversations with business leaders and hands-on activities, students experience the work world in a field relevant to class curricula.

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center, through its Eastern Office, is an enthusiastic event sponsor. Executive Director Mark Phillips also participates in the program and spoke with several student groups during the week. He enjoys introducing young people to pharmaceutical manufacturing and the larger world of life sciences.

He likes to start simply, holding up a bottle of an over-the-counter pain reliever. “I ask the students what’s in the bottle, and what it’s used for,” he said. “Then I start with the harder questions, such as the amount of ibuprofen in each tablet, whether it’s safe to take, and how they know it’s safe,” he added. That leads into a discussion of the pharmaceutical manufacturing process used to make medications approved for human use.

Questions often arise about career options and post-secondary education. “I encourage students to learn as much as they can about all the options available to them,” he said. “Many of the roles are attainable with a high school diploma, while others require either two-year, four-year, or graduate degrees.

“My goal is to provide clearer pathways for students. The point here is there are a very wide range of opportunities in the biopharma manufacturing arena,” he added.

Lauren Phillips
Lauren Phillips

In addition to being executive director of the Eastern Office, Phillips also serves as NCBiotech’s vice president of statewide operations, responsible for overseeing and coordinating the five NCBiotech regional statewide offices and their activities. He facilitates partnerships among government, business, academic, policy and educational participants in economic development and assists in establishing and recruiting life science companies.

After 26 years in Greenville, with 14 of those working at NCBiotech, his proudest contribution to economic development in Pitt County may be his daughter, Lauren Phillips. She directs marketing and communications for the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce and provided much of the information and the photograph for this story.

“I appreciate how enthusiastically she promotes local careers and opportunities for local people, and how she has jumped into promoting Grow Local and other successful Chamber programs,” he said.

Additional sponsors for Grow Local include the City of Greenville, Truist, Avient, Greenville Utilities Commission, Hyster-Yale Group, Optimum and Express Employment Professionals. To find out more about Grow Local, please visit greenvillenc.org/growlocal.

Kathy Neal, NCBiotech Writer
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