North Carolina’s $70 million venture into training and education for biotechnology industry workers opened its doors on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus on Wednesday.

The 82,500 square foot building is named the Golden LEAF Biomanufacturing Training & Education Center. The foundation is backing the center with $70 million.

The facility will be shared by the N.C. State, the state’s Community College System and the North Carolina BioNetwork.

When fully operational, the center is expected to train 2,000 students a year.

“This public-private collaboration for workforce development gives North Carolina a competitive advantage,” said Bill Bullock, director of bioscience industrial development for the Biotechnology Center and the Commerce Department, in a statement. “The capacity to train a job-ready workforce is attracting major biomanufacturing plants to North Carolina such as Merck and Novartis and is helping existing plants in the state expand.”

North Carolina already has the third largest biotechnology cluster in the United States with the companies located around the Research Triangle region. The biotec sector also employs more than 40,000 workers statewide.

"The center will be a major new force for statewide economic development and job creation in the biomanufacturing, pharmaceutical and related agricultural industries," N.C. State Chancellor James Oblinger said. "Through partnerships with industry, other academic institutions and with support from Golden LEAF, we’re creating a tremendous opportunity for North Carolina to lead the world in biomanufacturing."

The new training center is part of an aggressive effort by North Carolina to expand its biotech sector.

“Today’s event represents another milestone in creating a comprehensive workforce development system that is responding to the employment and training needs of the emerging biomanufacturing and pharmaceutical industry sectors,” said Valeria Lee, president of Golden LEAF. “BTEC gives students, incumbent workers and people interested in employment in biomanufacturing relevant, hands-on training in a pilot-scale manufacturing facility. The training and research capabilities represented by this consortium provide a strategic advantage for North Carolina that is essential to growing jobs and life science businesses throughout the state.”

Industrial partners have also provided $13 million through “in-kind” support such as equipment and employee time. Among the industry partners are Biogen Idec, Diosynth Biotechnology, Novo Nordisk Pharmaceutical Industries, Novozymes, Talecris Biotherapeutics and Wyeth Vaccines.

The Community College system launched its BioNetwork program in 2004 and thus far has trained more than 4,700 students.

In 2008, a 52,000 square foot laboratory and classroom facility focused on biotech will open at N.C. Central University.