Community college, life science company team up to create more jobs

The Gardner News

By Jean-Paul Salamanca

February 05, 2009

GARDNER — In a move that college and company officials laud as vital toward increasing local employment, helping the region’s life science cluster grow and providing local students with the opportunity to prepare for their careers with hands-on experience, local life science company New England Peptide announced Wednesday that it was collaborating with Mount Wachusett Community College by offering company internship and work force training to college students involved in the college’s biotechnology/biomanufacturing programs.

Dave Robinson, CEO of New England Peptide, said the company’s biggest benefit from the partnership would be work force development, with the company offering training to students in order to become technicians who can “join the NEP team, hitting the ground running as we expand”.

“Central Massachusetts has all the elements for a world-class life sciences cluster and this program will help build the work force to create and keep jobs in the region,” he said.

Collaboration between NEP and the college began in the fall 2007, when the newly formed Biotechnology/Biomanufacturing Department was initiated at the college. The department currently has 80 enrolled students in associate degree and certificate programs.

Mr. Robinson said he joined the college’s biotech advisory board when it was formed in 2007, and the partnership evolved naturally from the company’s involvement with the board.

“NEP has had a lot of success hiring recent graduates onto our production team,” he said. “Our focus on continued training and development offers a great career path within NEP for people looking to make a career in biotech. We have found they bring fresh ideas, lots of energy and share our commitment to providing an overall world-class experience to our customers.”

Mr. Robinson added that there might also be research collaboration opportunities as the biotech program evolves.

NEP currently employs 35 people at its Gardner facility. However, the company had recently announced plans to work within the city to explore constructing a new $12 million Food and Drug Administration-registered facility in Summit Industrial Park, which would manufacture peptides for commercial and clinical research use. If approved, local and company officials estimated the expansion could create more than 200 jobs for the company within the city.

Mayor Mark Hawke has supported the company’s growth for months, recently citing the city’s application for the state’s $1 billion Life Science initiative, which would help fund the company’s expansion, as critical to helping the city find a new hub for employment in harsh economic times.

“They employ a lot of local people and a lot of people in the regional area,” said the mayor. “Hopefully, they can continue to grow into the next Nichols and Stone.”

Lara Dowland, chairwoman of the college’s biotech department, said the partnership between the college and the company offered new resources to the department and the college, providing more learning and career pathways for students to develop into workers to accommodate future industry growth.

“It allows the department to get expert advice on curriculum development so we can train the students in the appropriate skills required in the workplace,” she said. “It also allows us to place students in the work force as interns to gain valuable on-the-job training; and it provides a potential employment pipeline for our graduates.”

Ms. Dowlan said students are prepared for entry-level positions in biomanufacturing as well as laboratory technicians in scientific research labs, and students who complete both the associate degree and certificate programs could make competitive salaries and develop a solid career path within the life sciences industry.

“The young students in our program are the future work force, so I think it is extremely vital for the company to reach out to them if they want highly skilled employees,” said Ms. Dowlan. “Our graduates will be trained in the skills necessary to be successful in the company due to the input the company has in our curriculum. I also strongly believe that our graduates will be stable, long-term employees.”

In a press release statement, MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino stated that “working together, Mount Wachusett Community College and New England Peptide are creating jobs for the future and enhancing economic development in our region at a time when it is needed the most.”

Susan Windham-Bannister, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, who heads the committee that will determine the pending approval of the city’s Life Science grant application, praised the announcement, releasing a statement noting the center viewed work force development as a key priority as it worked to foster growth in the life sciences industry.

“We’re thrilled to see this collaboration between New England Peptide and Mount Wachusett Community College,” she stated. “This is a terrific example of a public/private partnership designed to meet the work force needs of the growing life sciences cluster in our state, while training our work force for the jobs of today and of the future.”


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