Colleges and bioscience programs attempt to keep jobs in state

July 8, 2008

By hammersmith

{Source: Phoenix Business Journal, Angela Gonzales] – Arizona’s community colleges rapidly are adding bioscience programs to keep up with the demand in the state’s growing life sciences sector.

But it’s not fast enough for some companies that aren’t quite ready to move their headquarters to Arizona because they say the work force is not fully developed.

Robert Kellar, vice president of research and development for San Diego-based Histogen Inc., would like nothing more than to see Histogen move its headquarters to Arizona.

He lives in Flagstaff, serving as an adjunct professor in mechanical engineering at Northern Arizona University.

“We are actively looking to move to a larger facility, but probably in the shorter term staying within the San Diego community,” he said. “One of the challenges is the biotech community and the labor pool you can pull from is much greater in San Diego than it is in Arizona.”

In May, John Rao, founder and CEO of Tempe-based Secure Medical Inc., joined Histogen’s board. At the same time, Secure Medical invested $5.35 million in the regenerative medicine company.

“If we had some government support funding in grants, we could actually convince Histogen — being the largest shareholder — hopefully to look at a manufacturing facility here in Tempe, next to Arizona State University, to hopefully provide employment for some of our biotech students in the future.”

Keller said Arizona is an attractive place to be, given the collaborations to grow the biotech industry.

“I think, unfortunately, up until this point, we’re losing a lot of our talent outside the state,” Keller said. “They’re going to other places because that’s where the jobs are.”

Fledgling industry
Kevin Lange, associate of Office Properties Solutions at Colliers International, said the bioscience industry is still in a fledgling state.

“You can see critical mass on the horizon,” he said, adding that the universities and community colleges are doing a good job of training students.

“It’s all coming together,” Lange said.

In April, Colliers International released its “Supporting Economic Development in BioSciences,” which examines the collaboration between the public, academic and private sectors to expand and bring together biosciences in Arizona.

The report noted that Maricopa Community Colleges has dedicated more than $100 million for new bioscience and health care training facilities since 2004.

New to the biotech scene is Paradise Valley Community College, which recently broke ground on a life sciences building on the southwest corner of its campus. The 35,000-square-foot building will include eight teaching laboratories for life science, biology, microbiology, biotechnology, anatomy and physiology, as well as a large laboratory support area.

Mary Lou Mosley, dean of learning for the PVCC, said she expects classes to open for the fall semester of 2009.

“Biotech is going to be new for us,” she said. “We’re catching up.”

Its sister schools, Mesa Community College and Glendale Community College, have more comprehensive bioscience programs, while GateWay Community College is preparing to build a collaborative health sciences building on its own campus.

“It’s expensive to do, but it’s a skill and knowledge that students need, no matter what area of life sciences they’re going to do,” Mosley said. “This gives us better labs to be able to provide that.”

The new building will allow PVCC to double the number of courses and sections offered in the life sciences.

Chandler-Gilbert Community College, for its part, will be offering a new degree program called Biomedical Research Tech to support Covance Inc.’s research efforts as it ramps up its new facilities in Chandler.

James Tuohy, director of the biotechnology program at Glendale Community College, said the 50 students in his program range from ages 16 to 70.

Tuohy regularly invites researchers and others to talk to his students.

“In an industry I see as embryonic right now, I think it’s very important students are able to place a face to a name,” he said.

At Scottsdale Community College, professor Larry Turner is ramping up a forensic science program.

“An AAS in forensic science will qualify an individual to have the knowledge and experience to go to crime scenes and collect and preserve physical evidence,” he said. “It will not qualify them to be in the laboratory, analyzing, using scientific information.”

Those scientists need at least a four-year degree in one of the natural sciences, said Turner, who worked as a forensic scientist for 26 years. He came to SCC in 2007, and immediately began working toward building the forensic science program.
Arizona’s universities also are doing their part to address the need for future science and math leaders.

For example, Northern Arizona University is one of 12 colleges and universities in the nation — and the only one in the state — to receive a $3.4 million grant that has the potential to more than double the number of science and math teachers NAU currently is producing. The grant will establish an NAUTeach program that introduces undergraduate and math science majors to elementary and secondary school teaching by offering compact degree plans, early teaching experiences and financial assistance.