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Ecosystem development / Federal government / Funding / Tech jobs

Could the DMV be one of the EDA’s national tech hubs?

US Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Castillo spoke to Technical.ly about the $10 billion the government is investing in tech hubs nationwide — and how DC could become one of them.

US Capitol Building. (Photo by Flickr user Lara Eakins, used via a Creative Commons license)
Update: This article has been updated since publication to clarify that a $500 million appropriation within the $10 billion of CHIPS and Science Act investments was approved in late December 2022. (2/20/2023, 1:30 p.m.)
How should the federal government spend $10 billion?

Earlier this week, the US Economic Development Administration (EDA) released a Request for Information (RFI) on its Regional Technology and Innovation Hub program. Through the CHIPS and Science Act, $10 billion will be invested in the program through 2027, including a late-December $500 million appropriation noted in the RFI. The program will designate tech hubs nationwide to receive the funding — and DC could be one of them.

US Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Castillo said that the $500 million is a down payment on what she thinks will be a transformational program.

“A tech hub is not necessarily a building, it’s not a place, it’s a collection of economic drivers in a particular region,” Castillo told Technical.ly. “It’s building the interconnected ecosystem that supports critically important emerging industries.”

Becoming one of the selected tech hubs, Castillo said, requires a number of local entities and stakeholders to come together as a consortium. This could mean strong colleges and universities, a noteworthy private sector industry or a federal lab. In general, it’s about regions that are “on the edge of glory” and just need a bit of a capital investment push.

That means that the program is not taking a look at strongholds like Silicon Valley or New York City — though Castillo said they’re a good example of what the government is trying to replicate with this program. At present, the department is unsure just how many tech hubs will be named, but it does want to make sure they’re spread across the country, not just on the coasts.

A tech hub is not necessarily a building, it’s not a place, it’s a collection of economic drivers in a particular region. It’s building the interconnected ecosystem that supports critically important emerging industries.Alejandra Castillo

In short, that means that DC could definitely be in the running for a tech hub designation.

“When we look at the DMV area, you could see how potentially the DMV area could have those economic drivers to come together and maybe go after a tech hub designation and funding,” Castillo said.

With the RFI, which is open for comment through March 16, the EDA is looking to collect as much information as possible from the public. Castillo said that this information request is all about figuring out how to design a tech hub that will respond to a region’s local opportunities; it will not determine which specific locations will be designated.

She’s particularly interested in finding out how the public thinks the hubs should be structured, what stakeholders should be included, and how to create the hubs through an equitable and inclusive lens. That could mean how to support technologists of color and women, help small businesses, or boost the work being done in rural communities.

Because communities have to come together to build a tech hub and respond with the best methods, she hopes this process can leverage different players and stakeholders in a given region.

“This is the way we’re turning the tables,” she said. “We want the communities with these economic drivers to tell us what they think a tech hub in their area could be.”

Our goal is to find those regions where tech hubs can flourish.Alejandra Castillo

Part of this tech hub development will include workforce development, so the EDA will be paying close attention to how the feedback discusses larger ecosystem building efforts. The agency is also looking at technical assistance and technologies that need to be commercialized, both in national labs and universities, and the potential to generate and support a startup ecosystem. A key part, Castillo noted, is showing how important and necessary these tech hubs are, and their impact, so that the federal government will continue to appropriate funding.

Castillo said she hopes that this investment can stack up with some of the broadband work from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (through which DC is receiving $100 million over five years). The broadband investment will be necessary for some of the potential tech hubs because regions need to come together to build the best platform for the tech hubs to develop upon, she said.

“We want to take a much broader lens, and our goal is to find those regions where tech hubs can flourish,” Castillo said, “but also make sure, as President Biden likes to say, that we’re building the economy from the bottom up, middle out, and that we’re not leaving anyone behind.”

Still, she acknowledged that one of the overarching goals of the tech hub program is promoting national security and global competitiveness, and flourishing these technological advancements to help grow the domestic supply chain.

Send feedback to techhubs@eda.gov through March 16. According to the EDA, a Notice of Funding Opportunity will be released later in the year.

Companies: U.S. Department of Commerce / U.S. Government / Economic Development Administration

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