Changing needs of bio-pharma companies prompt curricular, facilities revamp.
Leaders from government, education, economic development and the biotechnology industry gathered in Clayton today to mark the “sheetrock breaking” on a $1.3 million renovation to the Johnston County Workforce Center. Upgrades will support the skills needs of Grifols and Novo Nordisk, two global bio-manufacturers with large and growing operations here.
“Today’s event marks a turning point not just for this facility but also for our county’s biotechnology economy,” said Chris Johnson, director of the Johnston County Office of Economic Development. “The workforce center has served us well for 13 years, but it’s now time to make the upgrades needed to keep pace with emerging opportunities in the life sciences.”
The 30,000-square-foot Workforce Center opened in 2005 as a state-of-the-art education and training center focusing on life sciences programming. It exists as a partnership between Johnston County, Johnston County Economic Development, Johnston Community College (JCC) and the local employers that utilize it. JCC, for example, bases its Associate degree programs in Applied Science in Bioprocess Technology, Biology & Biology Education, and Pharmacy Technology at the center.
“Our partners, Grifols and Novo Nordisk, are meeting with us weekly on several new certifications we hope to offer within the next six months,” Leslie Isenhour Holston, JCC’s director of biotechnology programs. “The creation of a simulated drug manufacturing plant, complete with bio maintenance education and virtual simulation, is unlike anything that currently exists in the world, and this is only phase one.”
Grifols, Johnston County’s largest private employer, established its Clayton campus in 2011 with the acquisition of Talecris Biotherapeutics. By 2017, the Spain-based bio-manufacturer had undertaken several major expansions. Grifols is now constructing two new manufacturing facilities in Clayton to help meet growing demand for its plasma-derived medicines. With the recent purchase of 467 acres of land for future expansion, it tripled the size of its Johnston County footprint.
“Grifols is growing,” said Juan Antonio Garcia Diaz, president of Grifols Therapeutics LLC. “We expect to increase our workforce by an additional 250 positions in the coming years. Supporting the Workforce Development Center is crucial to Grifols’ future and will provide new career opportunities to North Carolinians and beyond. This expansion will undoubtedly make Johnston County a leader in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.”
Renovations, which should be complete by early September, will accommodate more hands-on lab training and simulation opportunities in settings that mirror bio-manufacturing work stations at Grifols and Novo Nordisk, the center’s other primary user.
“Together, we are creating a modern simulated bio-manufacturing area that has some of the latest equipment and technologies for students,” said Chad Henry, corporate vice president at Novo Nordisk. “We’re so fortunate to have a first-class facility in our area to provide education for people in Johnston County that will prepare them for the growing number of biomanufacturing jobs in the county and surrounding region, and we consider it a resource for our company’s current expansion and training needs.”
Denmark-based Novo Nordisk’s facility in Clayton, which currently employs over 1100 workers, began operations in 1993. In 2003, the company donated the land on which the Johnston County Workforce Center was constructed. Novo Nordisk’s $2 billion Diabetes Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients facility, announced in August 2015 and thought to be North Carolina’s largest-ever pharmaceutical manufacturing investment, is on track to be operational in 2020. That new facility alone is expected to employ 700 full-time workers.
Operated by Johnston Community College (JCC), the center is owned by the Johnston County Economic Development Corporation, a county-controlled non-profit organization, and funded through a special assessment by a state-created Research and Training Zone comprising Grifols and Novo Nordisk. “I am so appreciative these industries stayed in Johnston County, expanded in Johnston County and are partnering with JCC for workforce development needs,” said Dr. David Johnson, JCC president. “I am also grateful to the Johnston County Office of Economic Development and members of RTZ for the tremendous support given. With it, JCC can be ready with appropriate training for jobs of the future,” Dr. Johnson said.
Since the center’s grand opening in 2005, it has been a model for life sciences training and development centers in North Carolina. The state continues to lead the nation in biomanufacturing workers, largely a credit to its ready talent.
“When companies like Grifols and Novo Nordisk look at growing their operations, trained talent is often the top factor,” said Bill Bullock, senior vice president of economic development and statewide operations for the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. “Through the workforce center, Johnston County has transformed its life science workforce over the past decade. We invested in this renovation to support training on new processes that in turn support a growing life science industry and create new jobs.”
The Johnston County Economic Development Office (JCEDO) facilitates value-added interaction between government, education and the private sector in encouraging and promoting job creation and economic investment in Johnston County. A unit of county government, JCEDO collaborates with local, regional and statewide partners and allies in providing confidential location assistance to businesses and technical support to the county’s 11 municipalities. Its menu of services includes customized digital mapping, labor and wage analysis, site readiness assistance and incentive packaging. For additional information, visit www.jcnced.com.
Cut line: Representatives from Grifols, Novo Nordisk, Johnston County Economic Development, and JCC participate in a sheetrock breaking ceremony commemorating the $1.3 million renovation of the Johnston County Workforce Development Center. Photo credit Best Video Productions