Those of the US Department of Commerce management of economic development On Friday, it was announced that a coalition of public and private sector stakeholders in the Richmond-Petersburg region, including Virginia Commonwealth University, will receive nearly $53 million as one of 21 winners of the national competition Build Back Better Regional Challenge.
As a marquee for the EDA’s American rescue planthe Build Back Better Regional Challenge “centers on a vision that, as our economies recover and modernize, as we workers and small businesses want science and technology to accelerate and transform the way we manufacture, we want workers and small businesses are leading this transition and making sure they are a part of it…rather than fearing this will leave them behind,” said US President Joe Biden in a press conference on Friday.
The Richmond-Petersburg Coalition — Alliance for Building Better Medicine — is working to expand the region’s advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing and research and development cluster to meet the country’s urgent need for high-quality, affordable, essential medicines. Coalition members will match funding for the Build Back Better Regional Challenge — which will be matched with more than $13.3 million in funding from private and public organizations for a total investment of nearly $77.8 million — for six builds – and use program projects.
“This scholarship supports academic pathways, training opportunities, research collaborations, facilities and mentoring to prepare graduates for the advancement of manufacturing and technologies in the region,” he said Gregory E. Triplet, Ph.D. professor in Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at VCUs College for Engineers and lead investigator of the Coalition’s human resources development and education component. “It also provides resources to attract, nurture and advance careers for many in the STEM field. We maximize opportunities through multi-agency collaborations.”
Medicines for everyone at the VCU is the cornerstone of the coalition formed in 2020 through an initiative by VCU’s College of Engineering to map out a regional strategy for advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing utilizing existing assets.
“Medicines for All provides two really important elements to the success of our efforts to build this regional center for advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing,” he said B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D., CEO of Medicines for All. “One of these is the work that Medicines for All is doing directly to provide cost-effective processes by which these medicines can be manufactured. But just as important is the people development component that we are working with Virginia State University on.”
The coalition met again in 2021 to accelerate the development of an advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing cluster in central Virginia. The coalition received seed funding from GO Virginia and others totaling $2.5 million.
“This public-private partnership is critical as it ensures employers have access to the region’s best talent,” said Triplett. “Partnering with an HBCU – VSU – demonstrates the strength of the region and the academic pathways are examples of what a national model can be. It introduces the possibilities for those who may not be aware of the opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry and provides a world-class education to address future challenges.”
Members of the growing coalition quickly began developing ways for the nascent cluster to engage and impact the entire region and its many communities—urban and rural, students, entrepreneurs, small business owners, veterans, and low-income and minority groups disproportionately affected by the economy hardship and the COVID-19 pandemic – with the goal of creating high-paying jobs and careers for people with a wide range of educational levels and experiences.
In 2021, the Coalition won Phase 1 of the Build Back Better Regional Challenge and began detailed planning for the six projects now funded with support from Activation Capital, Cities of Petersburg and Richmond, Civica Inc., Community College Workforce Alliance, Greater Richmond Partnership, Medicines for All Institutes at Virginia Commonwealth University, VCU College of Engineering, Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Virginia’s Gateway Region, Virginia State University, Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, GENEDGE, Brightpoint Community College and Reynolds Community College.
The Alliance will leverage the EDA funding opportunity to establish a center to accelerate manufacturing innovation and commercialization of laboratory discoveries. This unique facility will stimulate collaboration, invention and investment by accelerating discoveries from the lab bench to commercial scale.
“It’s not just the employers in the region,” said Gupton, professor and chair of the Institute for Chemical and Life Science Engineering at VCU College of Engineering and Floyd D. Gottwald, Jr., Chair of Pharmaceutical Engineering at VCU. “It’s new companies that will come to us to try and capitalize on the technological opportunities that are arising from both the funding and the ongoing work we’re doing in building a more cost-effective platform for advanced manufacturing pharmaceuticals.”
Funding will be used to develop new and collaborative study and research programs between VCU and VSU and industry partners, as well as manufacturing technician training at BCC and laboratory technician training at RCC, coordinated by the Community College Workforce Alliance.
In addition, funds will be used to build an innovation center with additional wet lab space at Richmond’s Virginia Bio+Tech Park adjacent to VCU’s MCV campus to help existing organizations in the region grow. EDA support will enable local and regional economic development organizations to accelerate the region’s supply chain development needed to create new research, distribution, service and manufacturing facilities and jobs in the Richmond-Petersburg region to accomplish.
“We are building a talented, diverse workforce for the growing pharmaceutical industry in Central Virginia,” said Triplett. “Virginia is poised to become the national center for drug manufacturing. Because of the expertise in the region, including the research of our faculty, we will continue to push the boundaries and recognize what is possible when we share a common goal.”
EDA funds will also support improvements to water and wastewater infrastructure in Petersburg’s Poor Creek service area, which serves growing manufacturing facilities there.
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