MANCHESTER — A $44 million federal grant will help produce the infrastructure for mass-producing human cells and organs as well as provide a path for students not ticketed for college to find a good-paying job.
The previously-announced grant from the U.S. Commerce Department provides funds to expand education opportunities as well as make advances in the regenerative medicine field through the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute.
“We will see the impacts of the technologies that are developed through this project, they’re going to reverberate all around the world, and we will see the economic impacts, too, right here,” Sen. Maggie Hassan said during a roundtable discussion in the Millyard on Friday.
The grant included about a half-dozen partners, include the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, Southern New Hampshire University and the Manchester Transit Authority.
People can’t build houses without a hammer or saw, inventor Dean Kamen said.
“Think about what this place is doing as the pre-competitive development of the toolsets that everybody needs,” said Kamen, who spearheaded the ARMI effort.
Kamen asked a regional government official what it will take to keep federal dollars flowing to ARMI, which received $80 million in federal funds to help start the initiative.
“You have a competitive advantage if you execute in a thoughtful way,” said Craig Buerstatte, deputy assistant secretary for regional affairs at the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
“We always want to be investing in capacity-building opportunities,” he told the roundtable, which included Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Rep. Chris Pappas and Mayor Joyce Craig.
Kamen said how quickly jobs come to the Manchester area will depend on how fast the Food & Drug Administration approves requests to conduct clinical trials.
On a larger basis, he told the panel of the potential he sees.
“There will be thousands of people necessary to produce hundreds of thousands of kidneys and hundreds of thousands of livers and lungs and everything else we’re doing, so the model is going to be the same as everything else,” Kamen said.
“There will be leaders that create a core technology that will create an industry that will allow a global need for these organs to be met by a huge workforce of people,” he said.
Plans call for a vertiport to be built in the parking lot of the National Guard Armory on Canal Street. The rapid charging station would assist electrical vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that would deliver freshly minted organs.
“As that new organ comes fresh out of the oven, it’s going to be put on some electric aircraft” to be delivered to a hospital within a 90-minute flying radius, Kamen said.
Finding enough workers will be a key challenge to solve.
“In a tight labor market with high inflation, it is increasingly difficult to attract students into a higher education journey,” said Mike Decelle, chief workforce officer at ARMI and dean at the University of New Hampshire Manchester.
“They’re lured by the promise of $25 an hour hourly jobs, and it is very hard sometimes to see the longer-term opportunity,” Decelle said.
New Hampshire, he said, is the worst state for seeing high school graduates attend college outside the state.
“This type of opportunity we’re going to paint that picture of there are great things happening right in their backyard, which they don’t really understand today to the degree they should,” Decelle said.
Allison Joseph, executive director of My Turn, an oreganization that works with new and first-generation Americans and single-parent households, welcomed the opportunities for students.
“I’m so excited to watch these emerging pathways and how we can get these people who may not be college-bound currently but get them skilled up, so they can make an impact and then continue their education from there,” Joseph said.
Maureen Toohey, deputy executive director of ARMI, foresees more people without degrees will be able to enter the field.
“We’re looking, I think, in the future where for each Ph.D. student that we have working in biofabrication, there will be 10 positions for non-degree students,” she said.
One thing that didn’t survive the initial proposal for the grant was building a pedestrian bridge over the Merrimack River to link the Millyard and the West Side of Manchester.
During a trolley tour of the Millyard, Shaheen said Gov. Chris Sununu had hundreds of millions of dollars in unspent federal funds.
“He can fund that bridge if he chose to do that,” the senator said.
“I will call him today,” Kamen replied.