Thanks to a recent $1.3 million renovation at the Johnston County Workforce Development Center biotechnology students at Johnston Community College can now learn how to manufacture medicine in a simulated environment, called BioSWE.

On Oct. 1, state officials, county educators, local government leaders and economic development supporters celebrated the reopening of the 30,000-square-foot newly-remodeled facility, which opened in 2005 with a mission to support Johnston County’s growing biomanufacturing industries.

“The creation of a simulated drug manufacturing plant, complete with biomaintenance education is unlike anything that currently exists in the world, and this is only phase one,” says Leslie Isenhour, JCC’s director of biotechnology programs.

The expansion is a collaboration of local industries Grifols and Novo Nordisk; a state-created Research and Training Zone which funded the renovation; Johnston County Economic Development; and the college.

The new design includes 5,000-square-feet of hands-on equipment training and simulation space for students and employees at Grifols and Novo Nordisk.

“Each room was thought out in detail, and we planned how we could simulate the processes that really go on in drug manufacturing,” Isenhour said. “This space will be used by students in the biotechnology and applied engineering programs, as well as the onboarding of new hires and specialized training for local industries.”

Grifols and Novo Nordisk have both donated over a million dollars in equipment for the simulation. Because of the expansion plans of both industries in Clayton, the project is also a recipient of state customized training dollars.

JCC offers a two-year degree in bioprocess technology; a certificate, which typically takes 18 weeks or one semester to complete; and an advanced certificate, which takes an additional semester to finish.

Tasha Hargrove, a bioprocessing technology degree student, said she enrolled in biowork because of the excellent career opportunities available at nearby industries.

“I had heard great things about the program at JCC,” she said. “I took the biowork program in the summer, and I decided I might as well get my degree because the field is lucrative and booming and so I decided why not go all the way.”

Hargrove said she is excited about the opportunity to train in the new simulated drug environment at the Workforce Development Center.

“I’m super excited about the facility and the training we’ll get. We’ll actually be hands-on and then hopefully catapulted into industry right after school.”

Since 2005, JCC has educated some 2,500 students in biotechnology certificate and degree programs. Because of partnerships with the local public school system, middle school students are also learning about careers in biotechnology in their science curriculum and high school students can take biotechnology college courses as early as ninth grade.

Over the years, the college has tweaked the curriculum to meet the training needs of local industry, and that has improved the employment rate for graduates. About 80 percent of associate degree graduates get hired within the first year.

“Together, we are creating a modern simulated biomanufacturing area that has some of the latest equipment and technologies for students,” said Chad Henry, corporate vice president at Novo Nordisk.

“We’re so fortunate to have a first-class facility in our area to provide education for people in Johnston County that will prepare them for the growing number of bio manufacturing jobs in the county and surrounding region, and we consider it a resource for our company’s current expansion and training needs.”

Future renovation plans include replacing current filling line equipment with automated robotics to complete simulation of filling drugs into vials for packaging, as well as moving certain JCC programs, such as applied engineering, to the Clayton area to support maintenance technician job growth.