Lee County Converting Abandoned Car Parts Factory to CCCC Life Sciences Training Site

Former Marelli factory in Sanford.
Former Marelli factory in Sanford.

When a car parts manufacturing company decided to move its 300 Lee County jobs out of its Nash Street factory in Sanford to a factory in Saltillo, Mexico, local leaders were quick to turn this sour story into lemonade.

With an eye on current and future life sciences economic development projects, Lee County has purchased the 21.4-acre former Marelli manufacturing site to expand the area’s life sciences workforce development opportunities at Central Carolina Community College (CCCC).

Marelli opened the powertrain technologies factory in 1976. But now that it’s moving its operations to Mexico, the county decided the site could provide opportunities for the community college to relocate and expand manufacturing training and workforce development programs.

For Lisa Smelser, lead instructor for biotechnology programs at CCCC, the purchase underscores the important role community colleges play in workforce development.

Lisa Smelser.
Lisa Smelser.

“New industry announcements are happening regularly in the CCCC service area and more frequently in the greater Triangle region,” said Smelser. “It's the role of CCCC to make sure our community has access to training that qualifies people for a high-paying career in biomanufacturing. People can start their career by taking just one class, BioWork, and continue their education through us in the degree program.”

While the college currently offers the 12-week BioWork certificate and a bioprocessing technology degree program, the center will support the development of new programming within the life sciences arena.

“We have extremely high expectations for the center as both a workforce and economic development site,” said Margaret Roberton, CCCC’s vice president of workforce development. “We envision opportunities for students and employers to engage with the resources at various stages including entry, development, transition and expansion.”

According to Roberton, the purchase positions CCCC as a powerful resource for advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, and ag tech companies seeking skilled workers. She also pointed out that the space will allow for “expanded customized training needs, incubator space for businesses and other entrepreneurial resources that can be specific to each of the industries.”

Margaret Roberton
Margaret Roberton

The facility will also help economic developers attract new companies to the region.

“The facility will also support regional economic development by providing a 'soft landing' site for transitioning businesses looking to relocate to the region, providing office space and potentially limited production, research and development space as businesses build their footprint in the area,” said Roberton.

Beyond serving an increasing number of biopharma manufacturers in Lee County, including Pfizer, Astellas Gene Therapies, and Abzena, Central Carolina Community College is positioned to contribute to the growing need for life sciences talent in Central North Carolina, according to Laura Rowley, Ph.D., director of life science economic development for the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. 

“In 2021 alone, FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies proposed plans to create North America’s largest end-to-end cell culture production facility, and the biotech pioneer Amgen announced its plans to establish a new biomanufacturing facility, both in Holly Springs,” said Rowley. “CCCC’s demonstrated commitment to the life science industry, visible through their participation in NCBiotech’s Veteran Outreach Program internship pilot, grant programs and their investment in infrastructure and programming, make them an excellent partner well-suited to rise to the occasion.”   

Explore more about jobs in biomanufacturing here on the Bio Jobs Hub.

Mindy Hamlin, NCBiotech Writer
Mon, 08/23/2021 - 12:58