EDA’s Tech Hubs Presents Opportunity to Spur Innovation in the Heartland
The recently launched Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs (“Tech Hubs”) program from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) will be a key component of the U.S.’s new place-based industrial policy. This initiative is a remarkable opportunity for the Federal government to continue to spur innovation and economic development in the Heartland.
Tech Hubs is a marquee program from the CHIPS and Science Act, passed last year by Congress, designed to leverage regional research and development strengths to catalyze the creation of good jobs for American workers. At its core, the Tech Hubs program is intended to stimulate U.S. global competition and protect national security by making targeted investments in critical technologies areas.
EDA has been directed to name 20 Hubs across the country, with each region eligible for up to $150 million in a two-year award. The CHIPS and Science Act places emphasis on using the Tech Hubs program to diversify the geography of innovation in the United States. Congress has required that there is a minimum of three Tech Hubs per EDA region, at least three Hubs that meaningfully benefit “small and rural communities,” and at least three Hubs that are located in Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) states.
Tulsa Innovation Labs (TIL) recently submitted a response to EDA’s request for information on the design and implementation of the Tech Hubs program. TIL’s response highlighted the opportunity this program represents for mid-sized Heartland cities and encouraged EDA to consider three main elements in designing the program, including partnerships, manufacturing capacity, and spatial equity.
Strong Partnerships Driving Cluster Development
Regions designated as Tech Hubs should demonstrate strong alignment across local partners and meaningful, ongoing investment in ecosystem and cluster development. Local partners should span across sectors (e.g., non-profit, industry, government) and demonstrate a “shared aspiration” for their region.
Further, these partnerships should include local private investment to complement EDA funding. Private investment serves as a tangible representation of the community’s commitment to industry cluster strategies. It also puts local “skin in the game,” ensuring better outcomes for the federal government, as there will be greater accountability for how grant dollars are spent.
In Tulsa, there is strong alignment among local partners and a substantial investment in our innovation ecosystem. Over the last two years, TIL has been instrumental in driving over $100 million in investment in Tulsa’s innovation economy through programs like the Tulsa Regional Advanced Mobility (TRAM) cluster, EIC Rose Rock, and Canopy HealthTech.
Partnership alignment and existing investments like these demonstrate the readiness of a region for exponential growth should they receive a Tech Hub award.
Advanced Manufacturing Capacity
Local industrial capacity will be critical for enabling Tech Hub regions to translate findings in the research lab into scalable products and services for the marketplace. Regions should demonstrate both existing, available industrial space and/or "shovel-ready" industrial plots as well as a strong advanced manufacturing workforce to support local industry clusters.
There has been a concerted effort to fund local industrial capacity in Tulsa. TRAM’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge included wastewater investments at the Tulsa Port of Inola. Tulsa Ports of Catoosa and Inola are the most inland ports in the U.S., and sit at the nexus of key north-south (I-35) and east-west (I-40) trucking corridors. The City of Tulsa and the State of Oklahoma have also committed significant investments to Fair Oaks Ranch to prepare the 17,000-acre property for industrial investment.
Geography of Innovation
The Tech Hubs program represents the federal government’s best opportunity to invest in the expansion of the U.S.’s geography of innovation. Congress has emphasized the importance of not limiting Tech Hubs to traditional tech economy strongholds. To further this goal, the EDA can prioritize spatial equity considerations when selecting regions to receive the Tech Hub designation. By doing so, the program can promote a more equitable distribution of resources and opportunities across different areas of the country.
In particular, EDA should:
· Prioritize small and mid-sized regions that traditionally underperform in the tech economy and would struggle to overcome amalgamation efforts absent federal investment.
· Deprioritize regions near existing high-performing cities (the Center for American Progress recommends a 120 mile “exclusion zone”) and/or in states that have multiple high-performing regions.
· Prioritize regions that demonstrate meaningful engagement with surrounding rural communities and incorporate these areas into ecosystem and cluster activities in a non-extractive manner.
The Tech Hubs program represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for federal investment in the Heartland. The mid-sized cities in the middle of the country are well-positioned to become globally competitive and support U.S. economic competitiveness and national security. Together, the factors described above ensure that EDA invests in the promise of the Heartland and maximizes the potential of the Tech Hubs program.