The White House's Technology Reinvestment Project isproviding $1 million to retrain laid-off Massachusetts defenseworkers with engineering and manufacturing backgrounds forjobs in biotechnology and biomedical manufacturing.

The three-year grant has been awarded to the MassachusettsBiotechnology Research Institute (MBRI), Worcester PolytechnicInstitute (WPI) and the University of Massachusetts, Lowell(UML).

In addition to the White House grant, Massachusettsbiotechnology companies are providing $1.5 million in cash andin-kind support for the retraining program. Carl Lawton ofUML said about eight biotechnology companies have madecommitments to help with the program and a total of 25 to 30are expected to participate. The companies will providepersonnel and equipment, teach classes and create internshipprograms for students.

MBRI announced Tuesday that the three groups will establish apartnership, called the Massachusetts Bioengineering Center, toimplement the program. The actual office of the center will belocated at MBRI, while certificate programs in biotechnologyand biomedical engineering will be offered at WPI and UML.Lawton told BioWorld that the program will target people witha background in quality control and management, providing"retooling" in biology and chemistry to bring them up to speedin biotechnology. The program also will provide students with apaid practicum at a biotechnology or biomedical company.

Next summer the center will initially enroll about 30 studentswho are expected to complete the program in 12 to 18 months.A minimum of 30 students will participate in the program eachyear, and Lawton said that depending on demand from thebiotechnology industry and displaced workers, the institutescould double the size of the program.

The Defense Conversion Commission estimated that 46,000defense jobs will be lost in Massachusetts from 1991-1997.Lawton said it is not known how many of these displacedworkers will qualify for the biotechnology retraining program.He said the program will serve a "catalytic role," developinginstructional materials that can be used by other institutionsand industry for their own programs to bring someone rapidlyup to speed in the biotechnology field.

The Massachusetts Bioengineering Center will be overseen by afive-member board of directors, including Lawton and RobertPeura of the WPI. The board will elect a director to coordinatethe program. WPI's Applied Bioengineering Center and theMassachusetts Bioprocess Development Center at UML willimplement the program.

MBRI will help establish an advisory committee for the center,which will include industry representatives, contact thedefense industry to recruit candidates for the program andhandle contract issues. MBRI said the center will be self-sustaining through a combination of tuition and industrysupport.

The $1 million grant is part of the Clinton administration'sprogram announced last spring to convert a portion of thedefense industry to commercial use. A total of $472 million wasallocated for defense conversion and retraining of workers.

-- Brenda Sandburg News Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.