JMU-BRCC-Merck workforce partnership nets economic development award

JMU News

by Eric Gorton


Harrisonburg, Virginia — A workforce development partnership between James Madison University, Blue Ridge Community College and Merck received the Judge’s Choice Award recently from the University Economic Development Association. 

Since the partnership started in 2019, Merck has hired 40 JMU graduates and 35 BRCC graduates to either full-time or contract positions. In addition, the partners have created an internship program to provide a pipeline of future workers, hired a regional manufacturing liaison and developed curriculum to train students for biotechnology and manufacturing jobs. Other goals of the partnership, which received a $2.5 million special appropriation over five years from the General Assembly, include providing a smooth path for BRCC students to transfer into the JMU biotechnology program and to provide training to Merck employees. 

Melissa Lubin, dean of JMU’s School of Professional and Continuing Education and the university’s chief economic engagement officer, said the partnership is providing a model for how colleges can work with industry in their areas to best serve the goals of each. "While working together seems obvious, it’s easier said than done," she said. "Universities, community colleges and corporations have distinct missions, so finding ways to connect our work takes strategy, intention and a lot of conversation. We want this to serve as the model for how higher education and business and industry can work together to create a workforce for tomorrow.” 

BRCC President John Downey said the partnership “is a model in demonstrating how educational offerings can be aligned with the workforce needs of industry. What we have learned from this partnership is being implemented in our work with other regional employers and we expect that our unique interactions will result in broader and deeper workforce alliances well into the future.” 

Kathleen Gass, the regional manufacturing liaison said, “An emergent and critical area of expertise needed by Merck was in the automation area.  The JMU internships have been very successful in providing much needed short-term workforce that is leading to full-time employment once the students graduate.” 

The partnership began after Merck announced a $1 billion investment in its Elkton facility to increase production of its human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines. In addition to expanding infrastructure at the plant, Merck is creating 152 new high-tech jobs that increases its workforce to more than 1,000. 

A key component in Merck’s decision to expand the Elkton plant was the collaboration and support of workforce initiatives by JMU and BRCC. 

Established in 1976, the University Economic Development Association has been working to bring together higher education institutions, private sector businesses, non-profits, government organizations and community economic development stakeholders to create local and regional economic opportunity. 


Contact: Eric Gorton,, 540-908-1760 

More information about James Madison University, including rankings and recognitions can be found at

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Published: Monday, October 25, 2021

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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