By Rebecca Keister
PBN Contributing Writer
PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island’s growing biotechnology sector is an opportunity for economic growth that needs funding to support training, lawmakers and industry professionals say.
“[Rhode Island has] an 11 percent unemployment rate that weighs on me every day. We have to figure out new [opportunities],” U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin said while touring the biotechnology labs at University of Rhode Island’s Feinstein Providence campus on Friday, March 23.
“That means making sure our workers have the right skills for jobs that are available now,” the Democratic congressman added.
Langevin met with the faculty and students of URI’s biotechnology manufacturing program as part of his RISE – Rhode Island’s Skilled Economy – tour, where he is advocating for the creation of initiatives and partnerships that will close the skills gap between hiring employers and a qualified workforce.
URI’s biotechnology program provides students with an intensive year of education and training, including internships at area labs that often turn into full-time jobs.
Since its inception in 2008, the program has received the bulk of its funding from the National Institute of Health, but faculty say the program is growing faster than its space and resources allow.
“We are meeting most of the needs, but the demand is greater than the supply,” said Greg Paquette, URI’s director of biotechnology programs. “They’re hiring all our graduates. The industry is growing very quickly.”