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BioNetwork to fund training after federal grant expires

Friday, August 29, 2008  |  Modified: Monday, September 1, 2008 - 11:30 AM

A prestigious work force training program funded for the past four years by the U.S. Department of Labor at Forsyth Technical Community College will continue its work as part of N.C. BioNetwork, the biotech work force training initiative of the state community college system.

BioNetwork will take over funding for the program as of Oct. 1, when the original federal grant expires, said Matthew Meyer, director of BioNetwork. That $5 million grant in 2004 funded National Center operations at five partner institutions around the country with headquarters at Forsyth Tech, including studies of biotech training best practices and the development of new curricula to improve worker readiness.

BioNetwork will fund the center at Forsyth Tech with $200,000 per year for staff salaries, travel and other expenses, Meyer said. That’s a good investment despite the $600,000 budget cut BioNetwork took in this year’s state budget, he added, because the National Center should be able to bring in new grants and contracts.

“They’ve got great contacts at the Department of Labor and the National Science Foundation,” Meyer said. “With the budgets so tight, we have to find new resources to sustain our initiative.”

National Center director Russ Read said his team is working through the final draft of its report to the Department of Labor now. His organization will keep its name and branding after moving to BioNetwork, he said, but will shift its prior federally funded national focus to finding ways for North Carolina specifically to benefit from biotech training improvements.

“We’re not going to be investing in other states; we wouldn’t use state money like that,” Read said. “What we will want to do is be a kind of national liaison, to be at the table for BioNetwork at national meetings, trying to create opportunities at the national level and seek out national funding sources.”

Read said he is already finding such opportunities, including a $500,000 grant his office has applied for in partnership with Ivy Tech Community College of Bloomington, Ind., and Cook Medical, a global medical-device manufacturer based in Bloomington, and with its endoscopy unit based in Winston-Salem.

If funded by the Department of Labor, the project would involve translating a degree program in regulatory affairs developed by Ivy for Cook into an online program that could be used in both states. Read said one of the conclusions drawn by the National Center’s work for the Department of Labor is that more specialists in the regulatory affairs field will be needed as the state’s biotech economy advances.

“We know those jobs will be growing at a double-digit pace, and that we’re going to have to come up with different ways and different mediums to get that training across,” Read said.

Reach Matt Evans at (336) 370-2916 or