VCU Engineering receives grants for job creation initiatives in pharmaceuticals, high-tech industries

B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D., and Paul Rocheleau
B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D., and Paul Rocheleau

To boost the availability of talent to fill the demand for high-paying, private sector, technical jobs in the greater Richmond region, Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering is leading two projects designed to support growth in the pharmaceutical industry and provide wide-ranging support across the expansive digital economy.

Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia), a bipartisan, business-led economic development initiative, has awarded the college two planning grants of $100,000 each toward these initiatives.

“These two GO Virginia projects engage entrepreneurs, industry and economic development experts in developing a cluster of excellence in pharmaceutical engineering, and are key drivers of economic growth and diversification and the creation of high-wage jobs,” said Chandra Briggman, president and CEO of Activation Capital in Richmond. “Given the rapid success of the academic and research programs already in this area at the VCU College of Engineering, we are seeing the attraction of industry partners and entrepreneurs to the region and expansion of resident companies, as evidenced by the partnership with Phlow Corporation here in the VA Bio+Tech Park.”

Professor B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D., the Floyd D. Gottwald Junior Chair in Pharmaceutical Engineering and chair of the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering, will develop a strategic plan to support the commercialization of new pharmaceutical manufacturing technology.

Gupton is co-founder of Phlow Corp., a Richmond-based public benefit corporation focused on the research, development and manufacturing of essential pharmaceuticals. In May, Phlow announced it would receive a $354-million federal contract for manufacturing pharmaceuticals and their ingredients. Phlow’s partners are VCU Engineering’s Medicines for All Institute, nonprofit Civica Rx, and AMPAC Fine Chemicals, which has a manufacturing facility in Petersburg.

Jeffrey Gallagher, former chief executive officer of Virginia Bio, is helping to lead the planning efforts, along with AMPAC, and Virginia’s Gateway Region, an economic development partnership representing the areas south of Richmond.

With the goal of driving new business and job growth, they envision a network of interrelated advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, scientists and technology centered in the greater Richmond area. Businesses could work on various drugs in critically short supply, seeking to reduce the costs of generic medicines and health care.

 “Central Virginia has a large opportunity to play a critical role in bringing drug manufacturing back to the United States,” said Paul F. Rocheleau, M.B.A., VCU Engineering’s executive director of strategic development. “In order to be successful, there needs to be an effective ecosystem involving a range of technology companies, regulators, advanced manufacturing and logistics and distribution capabilities.”

With support from the other grant, Rocheleau and a team from VCU Engineering will prepare a tech talent pipeline pathways map that will become a guiding framework to expand awareness and access to the myriad educational programs that are part of the tech-education ecosystem in the region.

“VCU has active programs that interface with educators that create much of the tech talent in the region, but there is a compelling need to connect more people to the growing list of high-value digital economy jobs,” Rocheleau said.

The group will develop a comprehensive plan to ensure tech talent education programs meet current — and future — demands for a high-tech workforce. The team will work to fill gaps in the pathways, create more awareness and opportunities for underserved communities and create business and educator links to nurture innovation at all levels.