On September 2, President Biden announced the Heartland Robotics Cluster as one of 21 winners of the $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge, the most impactful regional economic development competition in decades. Funded by President Biden’s American Rescue Plan and administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Regional Challenge is awarding approximately $25 million in grants to the Heartland Robotics Cluster, led by the Invest Nebraska Corporation, to accelerate Nebraska’s leadership in the agricultural industry through robotic technologies and advanced manufacturing automation.
With $25 million in funding from EDA, the Heartland Robotics Cluster will revitalize the region’s rural labor force and strengthen the nation’s food supply chain. The cluster’s projects include expansion of the Nebraska Innovation Studio to create an environment for innovators from across the state and from a variety of demographics to develop automation and robotic solutions. The coalition also will implement seven other projects, including robotics curriculum development; workforce outreach to provide rural areas with opportunities to work with cutting-edge technology; technology commercialization efforts in partnership with private industry; and manufacturing demonstration spaces to de-risk adoption of new technologies.
“The Build Back Better Regional Challenge places community and equity at the heart of its design. With this grant, technological development, revitalization of communities, and job creation go hand in hand,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “Invest Nebraska Corporation and its coalition partners will spur technology innovation in the state to fortify our nation’s food supply chain, support rural workers, and accelerate technology.”
“EDA is proud to support the vision of the Heartland Robotics Cluster as it engages rural communities in tech-based economic development,” said Alejandra Y. Castillo, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. “This EDA investment will transform the agricultural industry in Nebraska and position the region as a leader in innovation that will make our food supply more efficient and sustainable.”
“Congratulations to Heartland Robotics Cluster for being awarded this grant which will help them to revitalize the rural labor force here, which is a key component of the nation’s food supply chain,” said Congressman Don Bacon (NE-02). “As a member of the House Agricultural Committee, I routinely hear from our ag produces about the growing need to develop more robotic technologies and manufacturing automation.”
The Invest Nebraska Corporation is one of 21 winners – each a regional coalition of partnering entities – that will receive awards between $25 million and $65 million to implement an average of six integrative projects that will enable each region's economic transformation and competitiveness.
The Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC) is an unprecedented competitive federal grant program that provides each regional coalition with significant investments to tackle a wide variety of projects – including entrepreneurial support, workforce development, infrastructure, and innovation – to drive inclusive economic growth. Each coalition’s collection of projects aims to develop and strengthen regional industry clusters – all while embracing economic equity, creating good-paying jobs, and enhancing U.S. competitiveness globally. Projects span 24 states and include $87 million to two primarily Tribal coalitions and over $150 million for projects serving communities impacted by the declining use of coal.
The 21 BBBRC awardees were chosen from 60 EDA-designated finalists that each received approximately $500,000 in funding and technical assistance to continue developing their cluster strategies. The funding for each coalition is approximate, with awards to be signed later in September. Those 60 finalists were chosen from a Phase 1 applicant pool of 529 applications, which exemplifies the tremendous demand for transformational economic development approaches. EDA will continue to support all 60 finalists with the creation of a Community of Practice that will provide technical support, foster connectedness with peer regions and build capacity.
The Build Back Better Regional Challenge is one of EDA’s many programs aimed at building strong regional economies and supporting community-led economic development. EDA was allocated $3 billion in supplemental funding under the American Rescue Plan to assist communities nationwide in their efforts to build back better by accelerating economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and building local economies that will be resilient to future economic shocks. As a part of this funding, EDA allocated $300 million through a Coal Communities Commitment to support coal communities in pandemic recovery and help them create new jobs and opportunities, including through the creation or expansion of a new industry sector. Specifically, EDA has dedicated $100 million of its Build Back Better Regional Challenge funds and $200 million of its Economic Adjustment Assistance funds to directly support coal communities. Grantees for EDA’s full suite of American Rescue Plan programs will be awarded on a rolling basis through September 30, 2022. For more information, visit https://www.eda.gov/ARPA/.
About the U.S. Economic Development Administration (www.eda.gov)
The mission of the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) is to lead the federal economic development agenda by promoting competitiveness and preparing the nation's regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy. An agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, EDA invests in communities and supports regional collaboration in order to create jobs for U.S. workers, promote American innovation, and accelerate long-term sustainable economic growth.