In a move to decentralize and expand the innovation landscape in the United States, the Commerce Department recently unveiled 31 regional technology hubs selected from a pool of 370 applications. These newly anointed hubs are now in the running to benefit from a slice of the US$500 million federal funding earmarked to stimulate groundbreaking work in multiple industries.
Addressing the media, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo emphasized the broader aim of this initiative. She highlighted the disproportionate focus on established tech centers like Silicon Valley, Seattle, and Boston and shed light on the need to explore untapped potentials elsewhere. “Tech ecosystems should not be restricted to a few specific locales,” she said. “The real power of innovation lies in recognizing that great ideas are not geographically confined.”
This bold strategy aligns with President Joe Biden’s vision of public sector involvement in catalyzing private-sector investment. By bolstering pivotal areas such as semiconductor production, electric vehicle battery manufacture, and clean energy, the administration seeks to chart a holistic course for the nation’s growth. White House National Economic Director Lael Brainard further underscored this sentiment, pointing to the plan’s potential to nurture “critical technologies in every region.”
Illustrating this expansive approach, the Commerce Department pointed to the diverse geographical locations of the hubs, which span Montana, Wisconsin, upstate New York, Vermont, Nevada, Illinois, and even Puerto Rico. Each hub has a distinct focus. Topics of innovation include artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotechnology, critical minerals, clean energy, and semiconductors.
Raimondo’s comment that “people shouldn’t have to move to get a good job” reflects the initiative’s inclusive ethos. The regional hubs, many situated in smaller cities, aim to provide ample employment opportunities. For instance, the hub straddling Washington state and Idaho is set to delve into pioneering materials for the aviation industry, targeting heightened fuel efficiency for future aircraft. Meanwhile, an Oklahoma-based hub will concentrate on ushering in autonomous systems, with sectors like agriculture and pipeline inspections in its purview. Wisconsin’s hub has set its sights on the intricate domain of personalized medicine.
Despite the promise, it’s worth noting that being designated as a hub doesn’t automatically guarantee federal funding. As outlined by Raimondo, in the upcoming year, only a select five to ten hubs from the 31 might receive awards, potentially as much as US$75 million each.
The funding roots trace back to August 2022 when the US Congress ratified the Chips and Science law, which allocated a colossal US$52 billion for semiconductor R&D to bolster America’s competitive edge, primarily against rivals like China. Furthermore, Biden’s call for an additional US$4 billion to support more tech hubs is still pending, awaiting Congress’s approval for the year’s budget.