Pharmaceutical training center no bitter pill for industry

By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Dozens of public and private partners got a view Wednesday of what they envision as the next major step toward Pitt County becoming a regional pharmaceutical manufacturing hub.

The N.C. Pharmaceutical Services Network center at 1800 N. Greene Street in Greenville is a one-of-a-kind collaboration between ECU and Pitt Community College. It provides a laboratory-based, grant-funded continuum of pharmaceutical education and workforce training and development services for new and existing pharma companies in North Carolina and beyond.

The center’s concept was developed beginning in 2012 with significant local industry input from Phil Hodges of Metrics and Carson Sublett of DSM. The network’s unique capabilities have evolved since then, and can be customized to accommodate specific company needs, according to Mark Phillips, director of the N.C. Biotechnology Center.

The two–day training regimen provided at the network facility will enable workers to immediately be productive in complex and highly-regulated jobs requiring multi-disciplinary skills and reduce costs associated with mistakes made by new hires, said Tom Gould, PCC vice president of academic affairs and NCPSN advisory board member. It aims to prepare a workforce with sufficient cultural, business and regulatory knowledge to succeed within the global pharmaceutical industry.

Hodges said the idea behind him and Sublett developing the programs that the network now offers was to be able to hire qualified people rather than steal them back and forth between their companies out of necessity created by a workforce shortage.

“I think this is equally important for advertising careers in the pharmaceutical industry, and speaks to people who might never have thought of this as a living,” Hodges said. “A two-day class for a PCC or ECU student might help them decide they might enjoy doing this.”

The network was created through grants to ECU and PCC, including $1.75 million from the Golden LEAF Foundation, more than $400,000 from the Pitt County Development Commission, $100,000 from the Pitt County Committee of 100 and $40,000 from the NC Biotechnology Center.

Dan Gerlach, president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, which created a $1 billion endowment that has awarded nearly $600 million in grants to transform the economy of rural tobacco-dependent parts of North Carolina, said the former textile plant that houses the new center is an appropriate site to exemplify that transition.

“This type of activity brings high-wage jobs that allow people to stay here and support a better quality of life with the same opportunities they can get anywhere else in the world,” Gerlach said. “That’s a big part of why we invested here today.”

People who come to Pitt County from other places wonder whether Pitt County and the communities of eastern North Carolina can produce a workforce with the knowledge, talent and skills to compete nationally and globally, Phillips said.

“In a place like this, they understand that, due to the growth and expansion of Thermo Fisher Scientific (Patheon) and Mayne Pharma, we have the people with the broad experience to do the training on equipment used for oral solid dose delivery (pills),” he said. “We have to show that every stage of our integrated education system through the community college and four-year university plays a role in giving current and future employers the confidence that we will provide a workforce for decades to come. At the end of the day, it’s all about jobs.”

A recent survey showed that 14 eastern North Carolina companies employ 7,491 people commuting from 59 regional counties, Phillips said.

“They make that commute for high-paying, high-quality jobs,” he said.

PCC President Dennis Massey credited the Pitt County Commissioners’ investment in the Greene Street facility 15 years ago for making the project possible in close proximity to the companies that have the most interest in it.

“It’s also a good example of the collaboration we have with ECU and the N.C. Biotech Center,” Massey said. “Mark Phillips was a key person in this, too. I think it’s going to be a real stimulus for regional economic development.”

ECU Provost Ron Mitchelson said the two institutions now offer the full range of talent and skill sets needed for success in the pharmaceutical industry.

“We haven’t lost sight of the fact that Mayne Pharma started with a chemistry student out of ECU (Hodges) as a key ingredient for success,” Mitchelson said. “The most important piece of this will be marketing this knowledge, and this place gives us an asset on the map.”

John Chaffee, NCEast Alliance president and CEO, said it is hard to overstate the importance of the NCPSN as a marketing tool for regional development.

“The North Carolina pharmaceutical industry is almost completely situated east of Interstate 95, so this is ground zero for reaching that industry,” Chaffee said. “It’s a statewide resource that is housed in eastern North Carolina. It’s also the only such facility on the east coast, so we can go on the road and tell companies in New Jersey that the primary resource for training and educating people for this industry is in eastern North Carolina.”

For more information about the N.C. Pharmaceutical Services Network, visit online at www.ncpsn.com or call 224-223-3940.