Biotechnology officials in North Carolina have won a $25 million federal grant to train members of underserved and historically excluded communities for high-paying jobs.
The Biden administration announced Friday that the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, the Durham-based economic development agency also known as NCBiotech, won the grant through the Build Back Better Regional Challenge. The challenge is funded through the American Rescue Plan, the pandemic relief law passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden. It aims at rebuilding regional economies, promoting inclusive and equitable recovery and creating thousands of good-paying jobs by investing in clean energy, advanced manufacturing and biotechnology, a news release from the White House says.
NCBiotech applied for the grant with a goal of strengthening life sciences manufacturing in the state by investing in talent. To do so, NCBiotech will partner with N.C. Central University in coordination with the state’s other historically Black colleges and universities and its historically American Indian university, UNC-Pembroke, to create six training hubs. The center and the universities plan to work with the private sector to create ambassador and mentorship programs.
The coalition will be known as Accelerate NC – Life Sciences Manufacturing.
The project is expected to expand entry-level biotechnology training programs at 10 community colleges across North Carolina.
Biotechnology in manufacturing
North Carolina is home to more than 137 biomanufacturing companies that employ more than 30,000 people, NCBiotech’s application for the grant says. Salaries begin around $55,000 and the industry pays an average of $102,327.
The application describes the work as finding cures for terminal illness, creating biological-based agents, improving crop resilience and developing healthier and sustainable food ingredients.
Since the beginning of 2020, according to the application, 32 companies announced nearly 6,000 life science manufacturing jobs in North Carolina that pay higher-than-average wages. But the industry’s need for workers is straining the state’s talent.
NCBiotech reported that many biomanufacturing jobs don’t require advanced degrees. Some need only a GED with an industry-tailored nine-week certificate program.
But, officials said, many people in underserved urban areas and rural communities don’t know these opportunities exist. Officials said disadvantaged populations can live close by these facilities and be unaware of it.
Officials said 40% of North Carolina’s life sciences companies are in Durham, where 30% of the population is Black, but only 5% of workers in the industry are Black.
Elected officials lauded the grant in written statements. Gov. Roy Cooper said it would “boost our economy and strengthen our workforce for years to come.” Rep. Deborah Ross said it would ”help ensure that this region’s economic growth is inclusive and creates economic equity for historically excluded populations.” Rep. David Price, whose district includes Durham, said it “benefits local industries eager to connect with a growing network of highly-trained people.”
“This award, made possible by the Biden Administration and Congressional democrats, fulfills a promise to the American people to build back stronger and better from the pandemic,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield said.
Winners of the grants
The Biotechnology Center was one of 21 winners awarded a combined $1 billion for economic development. Piedmont Triad Regional Council was among 60 finalists, each receiving $500,000 to continue with their plans.
White House officials said equity was a key component in selecting finalists and they focused on rural, tribal and coal communities and those facing high and persistent poverty.
The Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration oversaw the challenge. Federal funding is matched by more than $300 million in local investments and commitments from companies.
Alejandra Castillo, assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, said: “This EDA investment will help ensure equitable access for residents of North Carolina to careers in a vital industry.”
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