Grant to Fund Courses, Credentialing for Biomanufacturing Workforce

A grant to the U of A will be used to prepare workers for biomanufacturing jobs.
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A grant to the U of A will be used to prepare workers for biomanufacturing jobs.

The U of A has been awarded a federal grant of nearly half a million dollars to help prepare skilled workers for biomanufacturing jobs that a Bentonville-based investment firm is working to bring to Arkansas, according to a Sept. 19 announcement by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration.

The EDA awarded the U of A $493,521 to develop and implement free online and hybrid biomanufacturing curricula and credentialing to facilitate biomanufacturing workforce training in Arkansas. The U of A was one of 11 winners of the 2023 STEM Talent Challenge, a national competition that "supports programs to train science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) talent and fuel regional innovation economies across the nation," according to the EDA news release. Other recipients spanned the country from California to Massachusetts.

The $4.5 million competition provides up to $500,000 in funding for programs that complement their region's innovation economy, create pathways to good-paying STEM careers and build talent pipelines for businesses to fill in-demand jobs in emerging and transformative sectors, the announcement said.

Tara Dryer, senior managing director of the U of A Global Campus Professional and Workforce Development, and Tobias Teeter, director of the Collaborative — the U of A education and research presence established in Bentonville in 2021 to catalyze the state's innovation ecosystem — are co-principal investigators of the $1 million project that requires matching funds from the U of A. The Professional and Workforce Development office is housed in the Collaborative, where the proposed Biomanufacturing Workforce Development Center will be located.

"I am beyond excited about this announcement and look forward to working with my colleague Tobias Teeter on this project," Dryer said. "We are committed to strengthening the Arkansas workforce through skills training to serve in-demand industries."

The U of A is collaborating on the project with SymBiosis, a Bentonville-based investment firm focused on advancing biotherapeutics innovations for serious and life-threatening diseases. Chidozie Ugwumba, managing partner of SymBiosis, said, "We are thrilled that the U of A has received this generous grant to train new workers for Arkansas' growing biomanufacturing sector. In the coming years, we expect innovative companies will come to our state to benefit from the skilled biomanufacturing professionals this program will produce."

Dryer and Teeter's grant proposal will enhance biomanufacturing career preparation across the state, including in underserved communities. Biomanufacturing uses biological systems to produce commercially important biomaterials and biomolecules to use in medicines, food and beverage processing and industrial applications.

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