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Tobacco millions awarded to colleges

(Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Diane Suchetka, The Charlotte Observer: North Carolina's community colleges and two of its universities were awarded up to $60 million in tobacco settlement money Thursday to train thousands of students for jobs in the biomanufacturing and pharmaceutical industries.

The goal of the new program is to use highly trained workers to lure more businesses in the fast-growing industries to North Carolina.

Martin Lancaster, president of the N.C. Community College System, is optimistic the program will succeed because, he said, no other state provides the depth and breadth of training the N.C. schools plan to offer. He added that it will "set North Carolina apart."

"These grants from the Golden LEAF foundation will be an incredible boost to North Carolina's economic transition from manufacturing to biomanufacturing," he said.

Ultimately, the schools hope, new businesses will create tens of thousands of jobs to replace ones North Carolina is losing in textiles, tobacco and other sectors of the economy.

The schools will work in conjunction with the N.C. Biosciences Organization, a trade group of more than 60 companies whose products include therapeutic drugs, genetically modified crops and diagnostic devices.

The board of directors of Golden LEAF Inc. -- Long-term Economic Advancement Foundation -- agreed to provide the money in a meeting Thursday afternoon, according to college and university officials who attended.

The organization distributes some of the money tobacco companies are paying to North Carolina to cover the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses.

The foundation's share is expected to reach $2.3 billion by 2025.

Initially, the schools had asked for $84 million. But officials said they could still proceed with the plan with the lower funding.

In addition to the $60 million, Golden LEAF asked companies that could end up hiring students from the program to provide $4.5 million in equipment and support for the project, school officials said.

N.C. State University will use its portion -- up to $36 million -- to design, build and equip a Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center.

The center will include a pilot plant, a replication of the sterile rooms and expensive equipment found in biomanufacturing and pharmaceutical facilities, so students can practice before taking jobs. It will be available to students from across the state, including community college students, for final hands-on training before they enter the work force.

It is expected to take more than three years to complete.

N.C. Central University will receive up to $19.1 million to build, staff and equip research labs in what will be called the N.C. Biomanufacturing Research Institute.

"We hope it will open the fall of 2005," said Rosalind Fuse-Hall, executive assistant to the chancellor at N.C. Central.

North Carolina's community college system will get up to $9.4 million to create five training centers at existing campuses. The location of those will be decided later, Lancaster said.

More than 65 percent of the jobs in these fields do not require a bachelor's degree, Lancaster said. And North Carolina's 58 community colleges will train students for those jobs.

In addition, the community college system will provide a mobile training lab that can be quickly dispatched anywhere in the state to train or retrain workers.

"There's a lot of work to do yet," said Stephen Jones, vice chancellor for the Office of Extension and Engagement at N.C. State.

"But I think the feeling that we all share is one of relief and celebration.

We've now reached the point where we can begin taking the next step toward ensuring that we are in position for our state to be the premier location choice for this industry."