Golden LEAF gives $1.9 million to create Eastern Region Pharma Center

ECU has received a nearly $1.9 million grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation for the creation of a pharmaceutical manufacturing training center.

The Eastern Region Pharma Center is designed to teach students and pharmaceutical employees advanced manufacturing techniques and address a need for pharmaceutical workers with four-year college degrees in an area known as the BioPharma Crescent in eastern North Carolina. Pitt, Johnston, Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe counties are home to a variety of pharmaceutical companies, including Thermo Fisher Scientific, Mayne Pharma, Novo Nordisk, Grifols, Pfizer and CMP Pharma.

Pitt, Johnston, Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe community colleges are also part of the five-year project. Within ECU, the project will draw on faculty expertise from the departments of engineering, technology systems and chemistry and later from the colleges of business and education.

Harry Ploehn, dean of the College of Engineering and Technology and the project leader, said the center brings ECU and regional assets together to benefit eastern North Carolina.

“With better coordination across the BioPharma Crescent counties, all of the partners — including industry, community colleges and ECU — will be more effective at recruiting students into lucrative, rewarding careers in the pharmaceutical industry, not to mention retaining our talent in the region,” he said.

Ploehn said the pharmaceutical industry already employs thousands in the region, and the demand for employees will continue to grow. He cited a December announcement by Thermo Fisher in Greenville to expand and add 500 jobs as well as a 2020 N.C. Biotechnology Center workforce study projecting aggressive growth of the pharmaceutical industry’s workforce needs, especially for those with graduate and bachelor’s degrees.

The state’s life sciences industry expanded its collective workforce by 11% in 2020, an amount that equals about 3,000 jobs, according to the N.C. Biotechnology Center. The industry as a whole is responsible for about 224,000 jobs across the state between 775 life sciences companies that operate here and 2,500 that provide supporting functions. The estimated impact is $84 billion in annual economic activity for the state, including $2.3 billion in state and local taxes.

“This opportunity will assist in developing the longerterm pipeline of local talent into these organizations and serves as a phenomenal step in workforce training and talent development,” said Mark Phillips, vice president for statewide operations and executive director of the eastern region for the N.C. Biotechnology Center.