A range of government officials — from the federal to the local level — came together in North Brunswick this week to make the case that collaboration with industry can translate into tangible job growth.
Jane Oates, assistant U.S. Secretary of Labor for employment and training, spent Thursday attending a town hall at Cooper University Hospital, in Camden, before touring the North Brunswick offices of Chromocell Corp., a biotech firm that this week celebrated the hiring of its 100th employee.
Oates, a former executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education, said Chromocell’s story underscores the value of public colleges.
“Businesses, if they want to be as great as they can be, have to partner with education,” she said. “And education has to listen, and not just talk, to business.”
Chromocell used funding from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Customized Training Grant program to work with Middlesex County College to develop classes for Chromocell employees. The classes were taught on-site at the company’s offices.
New Jersey Labor Commissioner Harold J. Wirths said his department gave out $17 million in customized training grants last year, which benefited 367 businesses and helped train 48,600 workers. The grant program also leveraged a total of $26.7 million in matching private-sector funds.
Christian Kopfli, Chromocell’s CEO, said the training programs are particularly beneficial for small companies like his, which are under pressure to meet the demands of clients at a fast pace.
“It’s incredibly helpful to get the workforce to the point where you can quickly deliver,” he said.
Joann La Perla-Morales, president of Middlesex County College, said Chromocell’s story demonstrates the widening scope of community colleges.
“You usually associate community colleges with working in lower-level skill programs,” she said. “But here, we’re working in biostatistics, for example.”
Middlesex is one of 19 member colleges in New Jersey’s College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development, which coordinate to provide training services to a range of industries.
Oates called the consortium a unique asset.
“When I was here in New Jersey, I didn’t really appreciate that it was the only one of its kind,” she said. “In every other state, colleges are competing against each other.”
Chromocell’s offices are another example of government easing the way for startups. It’s housed at a technology incubator operated by the state Economic Development Authority.
Debbie Hart, who heads the state’s biotechnology trade group, BioNJ, said government can play a critical role in meeting the needs of companies like Chromocell.
“It’s a large community, and obviously there are many, many needs, but we’re very fortunate in New Jersey,” she said. “All of these partners — the federal government, state government and industry — are very important.”