PCC to Receive Federal Funding to Expand Biotech Program

Student working with chemicals and equipment in science lab.

WINTERVILLE—Pitt Community College will receive more than $1 million in federal grant funding to enhance its biotechnology program as part of the Accelerate NC – Life Sciences Manufacturing coalition’s effort to strengthen North Carolina’s life sciences sector.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration announced the winners of its $1 Billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge. The coalition, which is led by the N.C. Biotechnology Center, was awarded $25 million as one of 21 entities selected to receive funding.

The money will be used to develop a more robust pipeline of biotech talent across North Carolina and extend opportunities to underserved and historically excluded communities. It will also be used to expand entry-level biotechnology training programs at PCC and nine other North Carolina community colleges and establish university-based, life sciences training hubs at seven of the state’s minority-serving institutions.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said Build Back Better funding would add to the “exceptional growth” of North Carolina’s biotechnology industry by recruiting and training the next generation of biotech and life sciences professionals, especially from underserved and minority institutions.

“The Accelerate NC – Life Sciences Manufacturing coalition will increase the capacity of North Carolina’s education system to meet workforce demand and prepare residents for good-paying jobs in the biotech and life sciences sectors,” she added.

PCC Biotechnology Department Chair Christy Weeks said PCC provided a 20%-match toward its grant funding, bringing the total grant budget to more than $1.26 million over a three-year period. In addition to faculty training, equipment, supplies and travel, she said the budget includes funding for a new biotechnology faculty member, project liaison and ‘pathways equity navigator,’ who will establish a biotech career pathway for underserved student populations.

“The purpose of the grant is to expand PCC’s capacity to produce BioWork and Biotechnology associate degree completers to meet the workforce needs of the state’s life science industries,” Weeks said. “Our biopharmaceutical industry in North Carolina, and specifically in eastern North Carolina, is expanding rapidly and the workforce needs are great.”

While Gov. Roy Cooper said investing in biotechnology would boost North Carolina’s economy and strengthen its workforce “for years to come,” U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield added that it would “accelerate economic equity” and the state’s resilience.

“I am particularly excited about planned partnerships with high schools and community colleges, including Pitt Community College and Wilson Community College in my district, to help students gain skills and experience that will prepare them for manufacturing jobs upon graduation,” Butterfield said.

Weeks says there has never been a better time in eastern North Carolina for securing “high-paying, rewarding” employment in the pharmaceutical industry.

“It is our role at the community college to connect students to career opportunities through increased awareness, creating educational pathways with ‘off-ramps’ into careers at various education points, and working with industry partners to ensure the training we provide meets their workforce needs,” she said. “The grant funding we’ve been awarded for biotechnology will enhance our ability to perform that role, which is beneficial to students, industry and the region.”