As North Carolina experiences a biotechnology boom, a new community college center in Morrisville is putting those jobs within reach for more people.
Wake Tech’s RTP campus is at the center of the biotech boom. In just the last year, companies like Eli Lilly, Fujifilm-Diosynth, Amgen and Jaguar Gene Therapy have announced thousands of new jobs in the Triangle.
The new Lilly Science and Technology Center will have 23 smart labs and classrooms. Students can work toward a new two-year degree in biotechnology, learning the skills to land a job where the average salary in the state is just shy of six figures.
“Our DNA is all about bringing the right skills to the organizations of this region,” said Wake Tech Board of Trustees Chairman Jamie Thomas.
The $47 million center includes training labs for gene therapy, genetics and DNA manipulation.
The third floor of the center is home to RTP Bio — a collaboration between Wake Tech and Durham Tech where students can cross over from one community college to the other for training.
“We have this tremendous opportunity for our citizens to connect to great companies and great jobs, but it’s a tremendous workforce challenge for our colleges in the region to deal with,” said Durham Tech President J.B. Buxton.
Companies have already announced new facilities or expansions with the potential to create 7,000 life sciences jobs statewide – including drug maker Eli Lilly.
“We need qualified and capable employees to work with these new technologies,” said Eamonn Warren, Eli Lilly’s vice president of global parenteral manufacturing. “We constantly invest in new technologies to ensure our manufacturing gets done at the highest quality, and that means we need qualified and capable employees to work with these new technologies.”
Bhushan Desai graduated from WakeTech in 2006, before biotechnology was a degree here. He’s now the senior director of manufacturing at Eli Lilly’s new campus in RTP.
“This is going to be a gamechanger for students at the early stages in their academics to get a glimpse of how a professional lab works,” said Desai.
“Once you see that connection on what you do impacts how somebody’s ability to life their live – it’s an extremely powerful thing,” he said.
The state-of-the-art labs are also creating a pipeline to a strong paycheck. The average salary for a life sciences job in North Carolina is $97,000 – which is twice the average private sector pay.
Workers with a high school diploma plus a training certificate can start out making $48,000 a year. That goes up to $55,000 with a two-year associate degree, while the average starting salary from someone with a bachelor’s degree is $60,000.
“We look for the specific skills, specific aptitude we want, so not all roles require a four-year degree,” said Desai.
Desi said the center will be a gamechanger for future Wake Tech graduates starting their careers in life sciences careers.
“This is definitely an upgrade in bridging that gap of transitioning from an academic setting to a professional setting,” said Desai.
The new center is next to the Wake College of Information and Biotechnologies, which will get high school students started early in this industry when it opens in the fall.