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Commerce Department Names Winners of $500 Million Tech Hubs Competition

JUL 02, 2024
Among the 12 awardees are a Colorado-based quantum hub and a Montana-based photonic sensor hub.
Mitch Ambrose headshot
Director of Science Policy News American Institute of Physics
qizhong-liang-jila.jpg

Qizhong Liang, a physicist at the University of Colorado Boulder, one of the main partners in the Elevate Quantum Tech Hub that won funding from the Commerce Department.

Patrick Campbell / CU Boulder

Twelve regional coalitions that aim to jumpstart technology development in their corners of the U.S. will receive $504 million in implementation funds, the Commerce Department announced today. The winners were selected from 31 finalists who applied to the Tech Hubs program that Congress created through the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022.

The focus areas of the hubs include quantum information, photonics, semiconductors, clean energy, sustainable polymers, climate resilience, biomanufacturing, personalized medicine, and autonomous systems. Each hub will receive between $19 million to $51 million from the department and will leverage additional contributions from coalition partners.

Among the winners is the Elevate Quantum Tech Hub based in Colorado, which will receive about $41 million for activities such as “constructing open-access quantum labs and fabs to enable rapid prototyping and low-volume manufacturing of critical quantum technologies.” The hub was one of two finalists focused on quantum technology, the other being the Chicago-based Bloch Tech Hub.

The state of Colorado is pitching in $44 million in tax credits for quantum lab construction as well as a $30 million loan loss fund for quantum companies. This support is provided through legislation that Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) signed in May at JILA, a research institute based at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Our region has always played a critical role in advanced technology and we’re proud to be supporting these efforts through a state investment of $74 million that was conditional on this federal award and will now be activated,” Polis said in a statement today.

New Mexico is another major partner in the hub and has pledged to contribute $10 million. Among the participating organizations from the state are Sandia National Labs and the University of New Mexico, which recently teamed up to form the Quantum New Mexico Institute, modeled on JILA.

Amid the competition for the tech hub awards and other quantum investments, government officials in Colorado and Illinois have prioritized attracting quantum labs and companies to their states.

Colorado’s pitch built on the longstanding expertise in quantum information science at JILA and its federal sponsor, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which has a major campus in Boulder. The University of Colorado Boulder and JILA already host a major quantum research center funded by the National Science Foundation, and just last week NSF announced it will give the university $20 million to build a National Quantum Nanofab.

Illinois has also emerged has a hotbed for quantum technology, with Illinois Governor JB Pritzker (D) reportedly considering a multi-billion dollar quantum initiative in the state.

Illinois already hosts another of NSF’s major quantum research centers as well as two more funded by the Department of Energy. An Illinois-based quantum initiative was also a finalist for NSF’s inaugural cohort of Regional Innovation Engines, which are designed to complement the hubs funded by the Commerce Department. (NSF ultimately did not pick any quantum projects for its first set of 10 Engines. )

Among the other winners announced today is the Montana-based Headwaters Hub, which will receive $41 million to develop photonic remote sensing technologies that can be deployed in autonomous systems with applications in areas such as natural resource management, disaster response, and national security. The hub pointed to its rural setting as a key strength.

“We have the advantage of being able to incorporate several open-air testbeds into our plans, initially focusing on rugged terrain, precision agricultural, and on- and off-highway activities. In the future, we envision expanding into defense applications, mountain operations, and more,” the hub wrote in its pitch to the department. “But more important than the land itself is that we are a region with a deep local knowledge of what it means to live and work in these environments. We count soldiers, farmers, foresters, and ranchers among our neighbors and families; in many cases, our homegrown photonics experts grew up learning these occupations.”

The Commerce Department wanted to fund additional hubs but did not have enough money to support the top-tier applications it received.

“In my entire time in government, I’ve never seen a more popular program, on a bipartisan basis,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said at a hearing in May on her department’s budget request for next fiscal year. “We have 400 applications asking for about $2 billion.”

Referring to the 31 finalists, Raimondo added, “Every single one of those is worthy of funding.”

Congress set a target budget for the program of $10 billion over five years, but so far it has only provided $541 million, most of which came from a special one-time appropriation. The Biden administration has requested that Congress provide the program with $4 billion in mandatory funding, which is not subject to the budget caps on discretionary spending.

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