WISE – A Wise biotechnology factory will expand its facility and workforce after two years.

SolarBiotech spokesperson Lisa Wade said Wednesday that the company – which uses biofermentation to make food additive and cosmetic ingredients – has already started hiring staff to help meet the demand for the company’s products.

Wade said the expansion plans follow recent investment by Illinois-based food ingredients corporation Ingredion, Inc. SolarBiotech manufactures its products through controlled yeast fermentation, Wade said, and its product line includes an additive to give plant-based meat substitutes texture, flavor and appearance.

SolarBiotech projects hiring just over 100 new workers within the next three to five years, Wade said. The company also expects to start building a 35,000 square-foot expansion to its 55,000 square-foot facility in the Esserville Industrial Park sometime in in the third quarter of 2022.

The expansion will allow more fermentation tank systems to boost production, Wade said

“We will have a need for bioprocess operators for our fermentation tank systems, bio process engineers, pipe welders and fitters, mechanical engineers and bioprocessing and operations engineers,” said Wade.

SolarBiotech CEO Alex Berlin said in a statement Wednesday that the new plant hires will have a spinoff effect of 250 jobs throughout the area.

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“SWVA Southwest Virginia stands a real chance of becoming a SynBio bioprocessing hub with global impact,” said Berlin. “Southwest Virginia has everything required to make it happen, including ample water and energy resources, a well-developed railway system, and affordable industrial park land. We are already delivering on projects, that involve global leaders in Synthetic Biology from across the globe.”

SolarBiotech met in 2021 with Mountain Empire Community College officials about developing training and certificate coursework for future plant staff.

MECC Wade said the college’s Bioprocessing Operator Certification program should be accepting students this summer for the fall of 2022.

MECC Dean of Industrial Technology Matthew Rose said the MECC program has received the college board's approval and is awaiting final approval by the Virginia Community College System and the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia.

"We're hoping the program will be ready to start this fall," Rose said, adding that interested students can begin the MECC enrollment process this summer.

Besides creating a pipeline of qualified plant workers, the program will allow students who start working at SolarBiotech while enrolled to apply their experience for course credit, Rose said.

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