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EastSide Charter STEM Hub to include workforce training pilot

Katie Tabeling
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Aaron Bass, Chief Executive Officer at EastSide Charter talks about the importance of open access to all at the STEM hub that will be opening at the school. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

WILMINGTON — When the EastSide Charter School community STEM facility opens in the next couple months, it will feature a new program set to train adults in  biomanufacturing and basic lab functions.

Delaware’s federal delegation, including Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, worked to secure $2.1 million in federal earmarks in the latest appropriation bill to launch a pilot program to train participants on skills needed for jobs in the state’s rising life sciences sector. Delaware Bioscience Association Associate Director Katie Lakofsky said that many partner companies placed these skills on the wish list to fill its rapidly-growing workforce. 

“The goals of the pilot program are to connect individuals from non-traditional communities through partnerships to provide that training to be successful and grant them the tools for success,” Lakofsky said at a Friday event announcing the initiative. “By strengthening the partnerships with our nonprofit community organizers, we can build talent pipelines and expand recruitment funnels.”

The three-year pilot program will initially be based out of the Chemours STEM Hub in the EastSide Charter School to help open doors to a new talent pool. The STEM Hub is 24,000 square feet in size and set to double as a community center for after-school and weekend events. Bioscience leaders and state and local politicians were invited to tour the construction site on Friday.

“What that means is you can see a world where everyone can be working on robotics or learning about machine labor,” said EastSide Charter Executive Officer Aaron Bass. “Adults can come in and be a part of the best practices and safety training on equipment.”

Other key partners in the pilot program include The Warehouse and West End Neighborhood House. Lakofsky added that the location of the first program was important to set the goals and minimize barriers like transportation — which made EastSide Charter a perfect fit.

Delaware Bioscience Association and the Delaware Life Sciences Caucus also unveiled other initiatives to lift the sector during Friday’s event, like the launch of a center focused on life science education and training.

This center, established by the Delaware Bioscience Association will work to form partnerships with academic and community institutions to help develop skills to succeed in a life science career path.

Past surveys conducted by the Delaware Bioscience Association have shown that every company surveyed had unfilled positions requiring skills in research, business or manufacturing. This center will focus on workforce needs at every level, even though it’s at the early stages, according to officials.

Legislators Reps. Mike Smith (R-Pike Creek), Krista Griffith (D-Fairfax/Hockessin) and Sen. Spiros Mantzavinos (D-Elsmere), who represents the state Life Sciences Caucus, also touted movement on a bill to help draw STEM talent to stay in Delaware.

House Bill 435, also known as the DE-STAR Act, would create a retention and talent advancement program to attract and retain new university graduates with employers by offering tax credits for education loans.

Under the bill, successful applicants will receive tax credits for a maximum of $1,000 for associate degrees, $4,000 for bachelor’s degree and $6,000 for a graduate and postgraduate degree.

“It’s a small incentive, but it’s one of those that can create cohorts of individuals to go through this program,” Griffith said. “The state is showing them that we want them here and rewarding them with a tax credit because we want them to raise a family here.”

“Economic development is a long game,” Smith added. “It’s a big puzzle, and when you take it out of the box, there’s a lot of pieces. Sen. Carper created that puzzle a long time with AstraZeneca, and now you have pieces in the Wilmington corridor like the STAR Campus and  WuXi STA in Middletown.”

Carper was instrumental in bringing AstraZeneca’s North American headquarters to Fairfax when he served as governor. Delaware reportedly offered $40.7 million in grants and tax credits in addition to millions more in road improvements to bring the newly-formed company in 1999. The company has downsized its Delaware presence, but has around 1,600 employees in the state.

Delaware Bioscience Association President and CEO Michael Fleming called Carper the “Godfather of life sciences in Delaware.” Carper joked in a comment to the Delaware Business Times that it was one of the “nicer things said about him.”

“I focused on job creation and preservation, and when you think about how the landscape has changed over the years, we used to have tens of thousands of people work in the auto assembly. Those jobs are gone,” Carper said. “But we’ve replaced them with life sciences companies like AstraZeneca and others who are still looking at us. They’re focused on what we’re doing in our middle and high schools to prepare the workforce. It’s a shared responsibility.”

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