The Biden administration on Friday announced the 21 selected regional economic development projects that will receive funding through the $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge. Most of the projects include state community college systems or individual two-year colleges among their partners.
Funded by the American Rescue Plan and administered by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, the grant competition aims to rebuild regional economies, promote inclusive and equitable recovery, and create thousands of good-paying jobs in growing and developing industries, such as clean energy, manufacturing and biotechnology.
The award recipients come from 24 states and will receive between $25 million and $65 million for a broad range of projects in various industries, with activities that include developing workforce training programs and connecting workers to jobs, as well as building advanced manufacturing centers for testing and training. The projects range from helping family-owned manufacturers transition from traditional cars to electric vehicles, to providing digital resources to small farms, to rebuilding pharmaceutical supply chains in the U.S.
“These grants will provide critical and historic funding directly to community coalitions to invest in new infrastructure, research and development, and workforce development programs while creating good-paying jobs, supporting workers and prioritizing equity,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a release.
Equity was a key consideration for project finalists, with a focus on rural, tribal and coal communities, as well as communities facing high and persistent poverty, according to Commerce. More than $270 million of the funding will go toward workforce training and development programs and to place workers in jobs.
Project winners brought together employers, labor unions and worker organizations, state and local governments, institutions of higher education, and community-based organizations. Many of the selected projects include community colleges, according to a review of the projects.
For example, the Accelerate NC–Life Sciences Manufacturing coalition, led by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, will receive $25 million to strengthen its life sciences manufacturing cluster by developing a stronger pipeline of biotech talent across the state and expanding opportunities to underserved and historically excluded communities. That will include the North Carolina Community College System (NCCS) leveraging resources at 10 of its community colleges to improve and expand entry-level biotechnology training and to recruit and train diverse faculty from industry.
NCCS will receive $16.4 million over three years, according to the system.
“The award will be transformative in how it will provide the resources to develop and implement strategies to recruit and retain students from excluded populations and create a program to upskill our own workforce by recruiting and training faculty on current biomanufacturing processes,” said Matthew Meyer, NCCS’s associate vice president of business engagement and national and international partnerships.
In California, the Fresno-Merced Future of Food Innovation coalition, led by the Central Valley Community Foundation, will receive $65.1 million to more quickly integrate technology and skills in the region’s agriculture industry, which will improve productivity and job quality for farmworkers while developing a more sustainable food system. A team of eight community colleges — including Merced College, West Hills College Coalinga and West Hills College Lemoore — are among the partners. More than $40 million has been invested over the past two years in agrifood tech facilities and equipment at the region’s community colleges, according to a summary of the project.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis Tech Triangle, led by Greater St. Louis, Inc., will receive $25 million to converge the region’s three leading industry clusters — biosciences, geospatial and advanced manufacturing — and build a national model for inclusive economic growth. For its work to buy more advanced manufacturing equipment that will be used in a new building for engineering and advanced manufacturing training, St. Louis Community College will receive $3 million.
In Nebraska, The Heartland Robotics Cluster, led by the Invest Nebraska Corporation, will receive $25 million to make the state a leader in robotic technologies and advanced manufacturing automation targeting the agricultural industry. Metropolitan Community College and Northeast Community College are among the partners.