Commerce Department Selects 31 Tech Hubs to Compete for $500 Million in Capacity-Building Funds
On Monday, the Commerce Department announced the selection of 31 consortia that will compete for funds from its new program supporting Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs (“Tech Hubs”) across the United States.
Among the hubs, 11 are focused on biotechnology, seven on clean energy and critical minerals, four on semiconductor manufacturing, four on advanced materials manufacturing, three on autonomous systems, and two on quantum technology.
The program is one of several hub-based funding schemes created by the CHIPS and Science Act that aim to spread the benefits of R&D funding around the country, particularly to less-established regions for technology development. President Joe Biden emphasized this goal in a speech on the same day as the announcement, saying, “Tech hubs are going to bring this work to where people live in communities all across America … For too long, science and innovation, and economic opportunities that came with it, were concentrated on the coasts.”
Hubs program grapples with high demand
The Commerce Department anticipates providing five to 10 of the selected hubs with between $50 million to $75 million in implementation funding each.
Congress has provided the program an initial appropriation of $500 million, though the CHIPS and Science Act called for Congress to allocate a total of $10 billion over five years.
In tandem with the hub designations, the department issued 29 strategy development grants to support applications for implementation grants, with 11 of the development grants going to programs that also won a hub designation.
The winners were selected from more than 370 applicants. Emphasizing the deep interest in the program, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said at a recent Senate hearing that she had “never seen anything more oversubscribed.” Most of the senators at that hearing took time out of their questioning to pitch Raimondo on their states’ applications.
For instance, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) pressed her for details on how the program would support rural states. She replied, “I promise you some will be rural. I cannot promise you it will be Montana, but I promise you some will be rural.” Montana did end up receiving funding for the Headwaters Hub, which will study smart photonic sensor systems with applications in resource management, disaster prevention, and national security.
The CHIPS and Science Act required that at least three hubs be designated in each of the six regions of the U.S. defined by the Economic Development Administration. It also required that at least one-third of the hubs “significantly benefit a small or rural community” and that at least one-third include a state or territory that is eligible to receive funding from the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).
Five states did not receive any development grants and are not included in any of the designated hubs: Hawaii, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and New Mexico.
Quantum hubs build on ecosystems in Colorado and Illinois
Elevate Quantum Colorado is a consortium of more than 70 organizations, including 17 companies and industry groups, 13 universities, and five federal labs. Some of the participants are in the neighboring states of New Mexico and Wyoming. The Bloch Tech Hub is led by the Chicago Quantum Exchange, itself a consortium of universities and national labs in the region.
The Chicago Quantum Exchange is also one of 16 finalists for the National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines program, which is designed to complement the Tech Hubs program.
NSF stated on Monday it will work to “ensure the use-inspired research and development that results from the NSF Engines – which we anticipate announcing later this year – produce exactly the kinds of innovative breakthroughs that are ready to scale through essential initiatives like [the] Tech Hubs.”