t a cell and gene therapy roundtable attended by Somerset County Manager of Economic Development Jessica Paolini late last fall, life sciences industry leaders hinted at the potential the region has to be at the forefront of life-saving treatments.
The most vital aspect to achieving new heights within the industry? It begins with the region’s workforce.
A substantial takeaway from these conversations was having talent trained to know the ins and outs of working in a clean room environment prior to starting with these companies. When developing vaccines or gene therapies such as cancer therapy, the production facility a company is operating from must be aseptic, i.e. free of any form of contamination.
Mastering the hygiene, dress and behavioral basics of operating a clean room will help companies train employees into their specific roles faster, saving time, money and mistakes.
“These are well-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree. These jobs will have a direct impact on healthcare, as they’ll be involved in developing life-saving treatments,” says Paolini.
A few months following those roundtables the Somerset Board of Commissioners announced in February 2023 that Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC) would receive $3 million in American Rescue Plan funding to expand its Workforce Training Center.
“The county’s $3 million investment to expand the Workforce Training Center at Raritan Valley Community College is an investment in economic development,” says Paolini. “With the growth in cell and gene therapy manufacturing these companies need to bring on technicians who don’t need an advanced degree to perform their job. RVCC, as a community college, is uniquely positioned to develop flexible training models that meet this immediate need. It will be the first community college in New Jersey, and among only a few in the Northeast, to offer a clean-room training environment,” says Paolini.
A Dependable Ecosystem
Hours before RVCC received news of the $3 million in ARP funding, the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals awarded the college a $75,000 grant. One of three institutions to receive the grant, the college will use the grant to cultivate a program catered to career opportunities within biopharmaceutical manufacturing.
“The trajectory is changing for what companies are looking for. One reason is the shortage of employees and number two is technology,” says RVCC Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Workforce Innovation Jacki Belin.
Campbell’s HQ investment represents its first at its home base since 2010.
Photo courtesy of Campbell Soup Company
The Workforce Training Center will grow from 44,000 sq. ft. to 66,000 sq. ft., adding new advanced manufacturing programs, EV and mechatronics workspaces, classrooms and the clean room. For county leadership and the college, these assets aim to expand interest for high school students and underrepresented communities to explore career opportunities within these industries, in addition to extending training programs to current employees.
“It will encourage students of all backgrounds to get involved in STEM education,” says Belin. “On a philosophical level it will really help us participate in the health of our society, especially in the growth in vaccine development, advances in cell and gene therapy. Those are all things that are going to really take off in the next few years.”
While the clean room is expected to open in January 2025, RVCC already is collaborating with life sciences companies such as Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Nobel BioCare on what curriculum needs there will be upon its opening. Investing in innovative skills training in addition to traditional education, regardless of age, supports the county’s goal of growing its robust life sciences ecosystem.
Throughout this process, Berlin and Paolini also have learned that this installation can serve industries beyond life sciences, including a number of food and beverage, personal care and semiconductor companies in the state. The project is thus a benefit not only to burgeoning talent, but a stepping stone for the county’s economic development initiatives, which means keeping skilled talent at home.
“We have dozens of companies — L’Oreal, Gilchrist & Soames, Haleon, Ashland –—that develop fragrances, cosmetics, supplements, and other personal care products. These companies have similar talent and real estate needs to the life sciences and can also benefit from having access to workers with training in a clean-room environment,” says Paolini.
Mondelēz International’s Global R&D Innovation Center will be the testing ground for some of America’s favorite snack brands.
Photo courtesy of Mondelēz International
For Somerset County and RVCC the prospect brings excitement and enthusiasm in playing a meaningful role in building a well-versed talent pipeline and remaining in steady contact with industry to address workforce needs in the region.
The Classics Are Found in Jersey
In addition to fresh life sciences talent the state is a hotspot of America’s staple food and beverage brand investments.
To kick off 2023, Campbell Soup Company announced that it would be consolidating its snacks offices in North Carolina and Connecticut by integrating 330 employees to its reimagined HQ in Camden, New Jersey.
The company is investing $50 million to introduce multiple new features, including distinct “neighborhoods” for its snacks and meals and beverage divisions on the campus. Additionally, the HQ’s Dorrance center will be transformed into a larger upgraded conference center. The enhanced space will bring increased capacity for meetings and events for the 1,600 employee base.
A new campus center, named after Pepperidge Farm founder Margaret Rudkin, will operate as a social hub and collaborative workspace for employees. Maggie’s Place joins the HQ’s Snacks R&D center and pilot plant, which will allow innovation to take place on site.
“We are thrilled to invest in our people, our facilities and our Camden community, which Campbell has called home for more than 150 years,” said Campbell President and CEO Mark Clouse. “We remain committed to our two-division operating model and are confident that being together in one headquarters is the best way for us to continue building a culture that unlocks our full growth potential. This investment will ensure Campbell remains a great place to work and a compelling destination for top talent.”
Two months later in March 2023, Mondelēz International celebrated the opening of its $50 million Global Research and Development Innovation Center 30 minutes west of Newark in Whippany, New Jersey. The snack giant, known best for its Oreo, Ritz and Cadbury brands, plans to test new cookie, cracker and candy products and manufacturing practices at the site.
While product piloting will take place here, the Innovation Center will also support electric baking technology as the company transitions toward its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050. Located a few miles from the company’s HQ, the site will allow domestic and international teams to collaborate on new ideas.
“Our research and development team at Mondelēz International is passionate about the important work we do to pioneer innovations, improve production processes and create consumer-favorite products for people to enjoy both here in the United States and in global markets,” said Norberto Chaclin, global senior vice president, R&D, Biscuits and Baked Snacks at Mondelēz International. “With this new center now open, our team is well positioned to set the standard for future snacking innovations around the world from right here in New Jersey.”