Tech schools combine to produce bioscience workers

STATHAM - In the first meeting of its kind, members of two technical colleges met for lunch Friday to discuss how they could create a work force that would sustain an influx of biotechnology companies into Georgia.

Representatives from Gwinnett Technical College and Athens Technical College agreed that a qualified biotechnology work force was imperative to drawing bioscience companies to the area.

"It's time for us to be proactive in the biotechnology field," Athens Tech President Flora Tydings said.

Charles Craig, president of the Georgia Biomedical Partnership, challenged the state to move from its eighth-place ranking in biotechnology companies to third by 2010. He said a qualified work force can bring jobs that otherwise would have gone to the Carolinas or other technology-heavy areas to Georgia. Already, he said, a number of major biotechnology firms make their headquarters in the state.

The Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority, headed by E.H. Culpepper, is interested in turning the stretch of road from the University of Georgia to Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into a bioscience corridor, with a special focus on Ga. Highway 316.

They want to bring commuter rail to the corridor and say a ready work force will help with efforts to bridge the area.

"If Georgia's bioscience industry is going to grow, it depends on a homegrown work force of biotechnology technicians," Craig said. "The stakes are high, and competition is so great because the promise of success is so tantalizing for everybody."

Robert Powers, program director for Gwinnett Tech's biotechnology program, said the decision for the two schools to work together will help create the work force that is needed to staff companies that want to locate in the area.

His counterpart at Athens Tech, Joseph Pyle, said the partnership extends beyond the two schools and into local high schools and grants that can be awarded in the state.

Gwinnett Tech President Sharon Rigsby said the lunch meeting will just be the beginning of the schools' work.

"We'll look at how we can continue to combine forces," she said. "We're only a small part of what needs to be done, but we're mighty."