Business

Building the Life Sciences Workforce

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by Joel Furfari

It”s the oft-repeated anecdote that still makes Gwinnett economic development leaders cringe. In 2006, biotech giants Merck and Novartis were eyeing Gwinnett County in hopes of building new facilities along the Route 316 corridor. Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce President Jim Maran told state legislators last year that the companies opted out of investing here "because they perceived that there weren”t enough educated and skilled people to meet their workforce needs."

While that was just two companies (and the county has found success luring other biotech-related firms), the incident underscored a fact that civic, business and educational leaders knew to be true – Gwinnett needs a high-tech, well-trained and skilled workforce to be a real player in the life sciences sector.

Helping train and provide that workforce is a role that Gwinnett Technical College is eager and well-positioned to fill – all the more so now. Gwinnett Tech will break ground on its new Life Sciences Building this fall. Leaders say the $24 million facility has a major role to play in expanding the college”s healthcare and biotech programs, which will eventually benefit everything from hospitals to corporate research and development.

"This facility is essential if we”re to meet the hiring needs of the county”s current and projected healthcare facilities with skilled healthcare professionals," wrote Phil Wolfe in a letter to elected officials. Wolfe, who is president and CEO of Gwinnett Medical Center, points out that GMC has an ever-growing need for trained health professionals.

Back on the college”s Sugarloaf Parkway campus, Gwinnett Tech President Sharon Bartels says beginning construction on the new facility will be a major milestone. "It”s very exciting. It”s almost like having a baby," she says.

The Life Sciences Building has been a major priority in recent years among the college”s administrators as well as executives in the local medical and biotech communities. They were encouraged when Gov. Sonny Perdue”s budget for last year included a $24 million bond for the building”s construction. Actually selling that bond, however, took some time.

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