US Merck backs college course to create workforce for $1bn expansion

The curriculum will focus on biotechnology, process engineering and workforce development to create a ready made workforce to fill 100 new jobs at expanding Virginia facility

Merck & Co is spearheading a curriculum of training programmes for biopharmaceutical manufacturing to support a US$1 billion investment in Virginia. The US pharma giant will be working on the project alongside two Virginia institutions Virginia Business reported.

The driving force behind Merck participating is the recent investment to expand its over-75-year-old manufacturing operation at its Elkton plant in Rockingham County to increase production of its human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines. This is planned to be a $1bn investment over three years, creating around 100 jobs that will need to be filled.

Subject to approval by the General Assembly, Merck will also be eligible to receive a state grant of up to $7.5m for the Elkton plant for stormwater and infrastructure upgrades to support expansion further.

The new curriculum will focus on biotechnology, process engineering and workforce development. Some of the syllabus will be from Blue Ridge Community College and some from James Madison University explained Melissa Lubin, JMU’s Dean of Professional and Continuing Education.

The ‘boot camps’ are now in the planning stages and will focus on training recent graduates at the community college and university levels. The state of Virginia is also encouraging the project with potential funding to the schools for the development of a custom workforce solution. This funding will be available in 2020 and will be up to US$2.5 million.

Blue Ridge is also working with JMU to have one of its technical degrees in bioscience and mechatronics “matriculate to JMU so students can get their bachelor’s degree,” Blue Ridge President John Downey said.

Anticipating the trend in pharma biomanufacturing, Blue Ridge has spent the last 10 years planning and completing a bioscience building, which opened in July. The facility contains a cleanroom and labs that can easily be adjusted as it was created with an ever-changing industry in mind.

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