Obama Highlights Biotech Jobs in NC Visit
WINSTON-SALEM -- President Barack Obama today used North Carolina’s biotechnology successes as a platform for rallying Americans around a “new Sputnik moment” to reclaim U.S. scientific and educational superiority.
Obama's call hearkened to President John F. Kennedy’s leadership in a national upswing in science and technology after the Soviet Union shocked the United States in 1957 by launching the first satellite into Earth orbit.
After visiting biotechnology classrooms during a trip honoring Forsyth Technical Community College's 50th anniversary, Obama congratulated North Carolina and an audience of students, faculty and business leaders not only for the vision that built the institution, but also for leadership in using biotech to meet global economic changes.
Machine Shop Origins Lead to Biotech Future
“When this campus was started 50 years ago it was called Forsyth County Industrial Education Center,” he said. “Machine shop and auto mechanics were the first classes you could take here.” At that time, that was adequate training for employment in nearby tobacco and textile plants, he said.
But North Carolina got a jump on declining tobacco, textile and furniture industries by establishing the North Carolina Biotechnology Center in 1984. That led to valuable programs that now have the state #3 in biotech -- programs such as:
- Business loans
- Grants to recruit key faculty and buy academic lab equipment
- Connection-building among commercial, academic and policy leaders
- Workforce training such as that being honored by Obama at Forsyth
With more than 57,000 biotech workers in the state earning an average $75,000 a year at some 530 bioscience companies, Obama leveraged North Carolina's good-news story into an economic-recovery lesson for the nation.
Accompanied on his tour by Forsyth Tech President Gary Green and Gov. Beverly Perdue. Obama met biotech students fresh out of high school and others re-training for midlife career changes after losing jobs in traditional industries.
"I came to Forsyth today because you've shown what this future can look like," Obama said.
Global Competition Requires Renewed Emphasis on U.S. Science, R&D
Workforce training programs such as the one at Forsyth need to pair with a renewed national emphasis on university-level science, engineering and math and federal support for R&D to keep America from falling dangerously behind global competitors such as China, India and South Korea, he said.
He promised to continue pushing for federal investments in education, saying, “Cutting the deficit by cutting investment in education is like reducing the weight of an overloaded aircraft by removing the engine. There may be some things you’ve got to get rid of, but you’ve got to keep the engine.”
Forsyth Tech is home to the National Center for the Biotechnology Workforce, which represents the state’s biotechnology training programs on a federal level and tracks graduates’ progress. It’s part of BioNetwork, the North Carolina Community College System’s workforce-training initiative for biotechnology.
Forsyth Tech also collaborates with Guilford Community College in a statewide venture called the BioNetwork Pharmaceutical Center. The center oversees high quality standards in pharmaceutical manufacturing training at the state’s community colleges.
Biotech Center, Partners Key to State's Life-Science Growth
The North Carolina Biotechnology Center works with the community college system and other partners statewide to create jobs that apply the tools of biotech to a wide range of products and services.
The state’s life-science sector is one of the few that has actually grown during the recession and the economy’s continuing struggle. And in most of the past decade it has outpaced all other significant biotech states.