The biotechnology business is booming in Franklin County and the surrounding region. Southwest Virginia is fast being recognized around the Commonwealth as a hub for biotechnology innovation. In fact, new laboratories are under construction in Blacksburg and Roanoke to accommodate a growing number of biotechnology startups headquartered in the Blue Ridge region. These developments are projected to create 250 new jobs over the next five years.

New jobs mean new opportunities and one local program is working hard to prepare the next generation of workers for success. Anticipating the need for a highly-trained workforce, Virginia Western Community College has launched initiatives to educate new grads for a STEM career right in their own backyard.

Virginia Western Community College Launches New Biotech Degree

Beginning in the fall of 2023, students can begin work on a two-year biotechnology degree at Virginia Western Community College. Following the completion of their degree, students can transfer to a four-year degree program or use their job-ready skills for an entry-level laboratory position (many of which pay $24 an hour). 

Students in the program will spend two years learning in a modern lab space to develop job-ready skills. They’ll graduate having mastered lab documentation, pipette skills, and the mechanics of PCR (polymerase chain reaction). In addition to hard skills, students also build important cognitive and emotional flexibility through trial-and-error so they’re ready to troubleshoot on the job. 

The Biotechnology degree builds on the successful Biotech Certificate Virginia Western previously offered. Fanklin County High School graduate Lily Torres recently finished the A.S in Science and Biotech certificate and was one of 5 out of 100 students to be selected for a summer internship at Novozymes. She views her biotechnology training at VWCC as invaluable in preparing her for a career in STEM. “In the biotech classes, a mistake in lab was seen as an opportunity to troubleshoot solutions that could be implemented in a real-world setting,” she says. ““The biotech program and internship bridged the gap between instruction and how to go about pursuing careers in the field.”  

Inspiring the Next Generation for Careers in STEM

Virginia Western isn’t just focused on nurturing post-high school students. This summer, VWCC launched STAT 22, a professional development event for local K12 teachers. STAT 22 helps teachers earn professional development credits by learning about biotechnology and incorporating that knowledge into their STEM curriculum. In turn, K12 students benefit from their knowledge, learning more about biotechnology and potential career opportunities in the field. 

Amy Chattin, Franklin County High School Science Department Chair, completed the STAT 22 program this summer.  A dedicated STEM educator, Chattin has taught biotechnology for over ten years, but thanks to STAT 22, she can now introduce more advanced equipment in her lessons. This year, students will work with digital micropipets to transfer solutions to an assay plate, a task that you would see commonly performed by technicians in the biomedical field. 

Recognizing the need to encourage biotechnology exposure at the high school level, the Franklin County Economic Development Department partnered with Franklin County High School’s Science Department and donated a $5,000 grant to purchase new biotechnology equipment. This partnership will encourage economic growth and development within Franklin County, as well as provide the growth opportunity for trained local talent in the biotechnology field.

“VWCC is thrilled to partner with Franklin County in providing this professional development. Our hope is that together, we can provide the ‘thoughtforce’ that will be critical to meet industry demands—and we can do that right here in the region!” said Amy White, the Virginia Western Community College Dean of the School of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

Franklin County is a Natural Setting for (Biotech) Opportunity

Biotechnology innovation takes a village. Whether you’re exploring a career in biotechnology, or a company looking to find stellar talent, Franklin County is bursting with opportunities. With its trailblazing Summit Business Park, business friendly location, and top-notch educational opportunities, Franklin County is the perfect place for a career in STEM.