New Jersey landed the emergency grant from the U.S. Department of Labor in October 2010, following two years when 3,400 of the 9,600 drug-company jobs lost nationwide disappeared in New Jersey.
"We didn't put all of our eggs in one basket, but there were a lot of eggs in the pharma basket," said Jeff Flatley, a New Jersey Labor Department official.
Debbie Hart, president of BioNJ, which administers the grant, said many pharmaceutical jobs were lost as companies approached the end of patent exclusivity for blockbuster drugs, opening the way for competition from generics.
Mergers and acquisitions also cost jobs. The economic slowdown that began in 2007 exacerbated the situation, said Hart, who presides over the Trenton-based trade association for the biotechnology industry, which includes pharmaceuticals.
If every dime of the $1 million is spent, about 71 people will land jobs. The workers must have lost their jobs in 2010 or later from various locations of Bristol-Myers Squibb, Hoffmann-La Roche, Johnson & Johnson, Merck/Schering-Plough, and Pfizer.
"The bottom line is that we're going to spend this money," Flatley said. It will be BioNJ's job to market the program to pharma and biotech employers; BioNJ will also prescreen job candidates.
"What I can tell you is that biotechnology has been a bright spot," Hart said. In 1998, New Jersey had 80 biotech companies. Now, she said, there are 350. They are mostly smaller businesses, employing 25 to 75 people on average.
Most are in the northern and central parts of the state, but there is potential for them in the south, she said, because of the research capacity of Cooper University Hospital and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.
Also contributing, Hart said, is Philadelphia's thriving start-up culture, which will likely send some offshoots across the Delaware River.
The $14,000 grants will underwrite training for six months for up to 50 percent to 90 percent of the employee's salary - although jobs in the pharma sector typically paid much higher than that.
"Every company is going to train their new employees," Flatley said. "This allows us to pay a portion of that training."
He said the $14,000 would help an unemployed person be competitive in a job market that sometimes stigmatizes those who have been laid off.
Other than the $1 million for on-the-job training, the majority of the $3.6 million was spent or is being spent to offer counseling, $5,000 grants for college courses, or other training, Flatley said.
As of March 8, 255 people had enrolled in courses, but Flatley did not know how many had landed new jobs.
Michael Lahr, a research professor at Rutgers University's Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy who has studied the economic impact of the pharmaceutical industry on New Jersey, said he wondered how effective the training would be.
Many of the science jobs in pharmacy left the state along with pharmaceutical manufacturing in the mid-2000s, he said.
"We have tried to hold on to research and development and headquarters jobs, but we're losing some of that," he said.
The purpose of the $14,000 hiring incentive, officials said, is to keep the skilled pharma workforce in New Jersey. The 121,655 people employed in pharma, biotechnology, and life sciences in 2011 are among the state's mostly highly educated, with 60 percent holding bachelor's or other advanced degrees.
"These are high-paying jobs that we are losing and they are being replaced by distribution" jobs that typically pay less and are less skilled, Lahr said. That raises the question of what type of retraining would be appropriate for the laid-off pharmaceutical workers.
"These people don't want to be underemployed," Lahr said. "They'd rather move someplace else."
Contact Jane M. Von Bergen at email@example.com, @JaneVonBergen on Twitter, or at 215-854-2769. Read her workplace blog at www.philly.com/jobbing